Daylight Saving Time: Why Is It a Thing — and Isn't It Time to Get Rid of It?
Turning the clocks backward or forward an hour — a.k.a. the practice known as daylight saving time (DST) — happens twice a year, and I never like it. This Sunday, March 12, marks the date Americans will “spring forward” once again, meaning we’re losing an hour of sleep but it’s staying light outside for longer. While gaining more daylight is lovely, losing sleep is not; plus, it turns out that loss can have some serious ramifications on our health.
However, the arguably more difficult time adjustment happens in November, when we “fall back,” gaining an hour of sleep but losing an hour of daylight. Getting more shut-eye is nice, but losing daylight can be downright depressing; if you leave work at 5 p.m. to a pitch-black sky, you’re more likely to head home and climb into bed than run necessary errands or meet your friends for dinner. It almost feels like you’ve been robbed of the day.
I’m not alone in my irritation at daylight saving time. A Monmouth University poll conducted in 2022 found that only 35 percent of Americans wanted to keep resetting their clocks every fall and spring, while a YouGov poll conducted the same year found that 59 percent of Americans wanted to see daylight saving time made permanent; in other words, our schedules would become consistent, there would be no more clock switching, and we’d stay on the “spring forward” schedule — resulting in permanently longer days but darker winter mornings.
The impact of keeping more evening sunlight on public health and safety has been a hot discussion topic in recent years, and Congress has even made efforts to make DST permanent. But why do we make our clocks spring forward in the first place? And if it’s such an unpopular practice, Why haven’t we gotten rid of it? Well, the answer is complicated. Keep reading to learn all about the origins of daylight saving time, why it’s still around, and why it might soon become a thing of the past, thanks to a unanimously passed Senate bill.
Where did daylight saving time come from?
There’s a possibility that this whole mess originated with Benjamin Franklin. In a 1784 letter to the editor of the Journal of Paris, the Founding Father suggested that Parisians could save money by getting up earlier during the summer, as they would then have to light fewer candles in the evening. As the face of our $100 bill, I suppose it makes sense that Ben was trying to cut costs.
But DST wasn’t officially introduced in the US until 1918, during World War I. It was part of the Standard Time Act, a measure intended to save on fuel costs by adding an extra hour of sunlight to the day. Ours was not the only country to adopt daylight saving time during the summer months; in fact, several European countries involved in the war did the same, for similar cost-saving purposes. Consumerism also played a role, as Americans were more likely to shop if there was still light out when they left work.
The 1918 law was signed by President Woodrow Wilson, and in addition to establishing a standard time, it gave the federal government permission to establish five different time zones across the county (which we still use today). At the end of WWI, the US abandoned daylight saving time at the federal level because there was no longer any financial imperative (though states who wanted to continue observing the practice were allowed to).
While the practice was abolished after the war, it became standard again in the ‘60s. The law that enforces daylight saving time as we know it today is called the Uniform Time Act of 1966, and it established a system of uniform DST throughout the country (though it again allowed states to opt out of the practice). Two states chose not to observe daylight saving time and instead remain on standard time year-round: Arizona and Hawaii. (If you’ve ever spent time in either state, you might’ve noticed how confusing that can get!)
So, there you have it: Daylight savings time is not, as is commonly and mistakenly assumed, to be about giving farmers more time to work in the fields in the spring and summer. It was actually aimed at reducing our electricity consumption. By law — the Uniform Time Act of 2005, to be precise — our present day iteration of daylight saving time begins on the second Sunday of March and ends on the first Sunday of November.
Why haven’t we gotten rid of daylight saving time?
First, let me clarify the phrasing. While you or I might want to “get rid of daylight saving time,” this desire actually translates into “making daylight saving time permanent.” Again, this would entail us grumbling through darker winter mornings in exchange for keeping more blissful daylight in the evenings. As for losing sleep, we’ll all adjust once we’re on a set schedule that doesn’t necessitate changing any clocks! Right?
Well, some experts believe this shift could harm Americans. Opponents of permanent daylight saving time say that extending sunlight later into the evening will result in more sleep loss and therefore pose a public health threat. (To be fair, loss of sleep can indeed be deadly.) These opponents claim that daylight saving time doesn’t align with our natural circadian rhythms: our sleep schedules are guided by the earth’s light and dark cycle, but if we shift to darker mornings and lighter evenings, our schedules will get thrown out of whack. They’d prefer to see us adopt permanent standard time instead, in favor of our natural body clocks.
What’s the Sunshine Protection Act of 2023 going to change?
Congress is currently weighing the Sunshine Protection Act, a bill that would establish daylight saving time federally year-round. More than half of the states have signaled support for the bill. But while the Sunshine Protection Act passed unanimously in the Senate last year, the bill stalled in the House. Earlier this month (March 2023), Senator Marco Rubio reintroduced legislation to make DST permanent, proposing an end to the bi-annual clock change and noting, “this ritual of changing time twice a year is stupid. Locking the clock has overwhelming bipartisan and popular support.” As of now, there is no way of knowing whether the Sunshine Protection Act will pass or be hindered by Congress again. We can only wait, and hope.
Save Your Sleep
So, what can we do in the meantime? We are all clearly tired — a 2022 survey reported that three out of five American adults felt more tired than they'd ever been — so perhaps we should all take a nap. The Sleep Foundation recently released a survey which found that adults nap a whopping 94.3 days each year. Some other key findings include: 80.7 percent of adults have taken a nap in the past three months, those aged 55+ nap 135.7 days a year while 25 to 34 year olds only nap 84.8 days, and the average nap lasts about one hour. Think napping makes you inevitably groggy upon waking? Well, 52.6 percent of nappers did report feel groggy after waking up — but 49.1 percent of nappers said they felt refreshed. Which means the jury's out, and the choice is yours.
Sleep expert Dr. Nilong Vyas, MD, at Sleepless in NOLA and Medical Review Expert at SleepFoundation.org, thinks that napping after the time change can be beneficial. “With daylight saving time starting on March 12, we will lose an hour of sleep, so stealing away a 30-minute catnap the day after (Monday, March 13) is apropos,” she says. “Napping should be kept to under an hour and not too late into the afternoon to avoid being unable to fall asleep at bedtime.”
You heard her! Nap away. And if you need tips to help you get to sleep at night, try some natural insomnia remedies, eat white rice before bed, or challenge the notion of whether eight hours is entirely necessary in the first place.