When I’m elected Benevolent Dictator of the Universe, my first official act will be to abolish daylight saving time. To appease all you morning-haters moaning about the sun waking you up too early, as goodwill gesture, I would distribute eyeshades and blackout curtains to all who wanted them (that’s the “Benevolent” part of my title). Unfortunately, those vampire accessories would only serve to enable your poor attitude about what I and other persons of similar bent know: that mornings are the best part of the day. Early mornings are especially divine, a time of quiet and birdsong—and the occasional delivery trucks making their Starbucks rounds to prepare them for the onslaught of caffeine addicts and the morning-challenged.
Among other things, DST messes up my warm-season morning walking routine, albeit mostly in spring when just as the sun starts to rise earlier, BAM!, the clocks move forward and I have to wait another six weeks before it gets light again earlier (I don’t like walking in the dark). Boo-hoo, you may be thinking, but studies indicate that DST is bad for our health, including increasing heart attacks in the first few days of the time change.
On top of having to rise an hour earlier, we don’t even get the benefit of the sunlight waking us up naturally—at least not for the first several weeks. Changing time disrupts sleep, a necessity that many of us don’t get enough of these days. Lost sleep is detrimental to motor skills, mood, and memory. Workplace injuries rise during the time change, too. Even just an hour shift in time can mess with your body. The slightest change in eating and sleeping times can bung a person up. We old and cranky folk prefer our morning, um, constitution to remain regular.
So who invented this nightmare and why? Manipulating timepieces to take advantage of longer daylight hours in summer has been practiced since Roman times. But DST as we know it was first proposed by a 19th-century New Zealander named George Hudson who wanted more time at the end of his work day to collect insects (he was an entomologist). Similarly, in 1905, an Englishman named William Willett proposed the idea because he, like me, was dismayed that so many people wasted summer mornings lying in bed. By moving clocks forward, the lazy bums might get up earlier. Apparently, he also liked his golf, so changing the time would allow him to play longer in the evenings.
Yes, having more time for outdoor activities after work is another reason many love their DST. But why not just shift some of that activity to the morning? There’s nothing like a walk in nature or bike ride at the breaking light of dawn to fortify the soul for any obstacles the day lobs at you. If you live in an urban area, you won’t find a quieter time; prepare to be amazed by how still the streets can be. If you live in a high-crime urban area, you won’t find a safer time to get out for a walk, since the druggies and baddies are either lying unconscious somewhere or have packed it in for the night. (My social worker sister confirms that early morning is the best time to make house calls to clients because the violent who sometimes threaten them are asleep.)
Contrary to popular belief, DST was not invented to help farmers. If you have to get up early to milk cows or plant crops or do other farmly stuff, why would you want it to be dark in the morning? The concept of DST has also been attributed to Ben Franklin because he once suggested that shifting the time would save on candles being burned in the evening. Did it not occur to our wise founding father that the candles saved would have to be burned in the morning instead—you know, so people could have light in the morning…when it was now darker because of the time change?
Modern DST has been touted as an energy conservation measure. But one Indiana study actually found that DST increased electricity bills to Indiana households by $9 million annually because of increases in heating and cooling houses (respectively, spring and fall, and summer). The study’s authors estimated the health costs from increased pollution emissions from heating and cooling to range from $1.7 to $5.5 million annually. They also have strong evidence to suggest that DST costs even more in other parts of the country. Indiana served as a good natural study area because the state did not observe DST until 2006, which allowed the study’s investigators to take advantage of empirical data related to DST and electricity use in the United States since the mid-1970s. It would seem that any energy savings from reduced lighting is lost on heating and cooling.
I once heard someone describe the logic of DST as akin to cutting off one end of a yardstick and glueing it on to the other end to make the yardstick longer (take note, Mr. Franklin). I couldn’t agree more, and it’s about time we kicked this wholly illogical and completely unnecessary practice to the curb. Maybe then we could all get some sleep.