Daylight saving time starts tomorrow, thank God. After four months of dark and dismal evenings, many Americans will relish commuting home next week in full daylight. Which begs an obvious question: Why do we turn the clocks back at all? Others have argued that daylight saving time is pointless and should be abolished, but I’d like to take this opportunity to firmly disagree: Saving daylight is awesome, and we should do it all year.
This article was originally published on October 31st, 2015, and has been updated to reflect the fact that daylight saving time is now beginning, not ending.
First, to dispel the most common misconception: Farmers have nothing to do with daylight saving time. It was introduced in World War I, first by the Germans, who fancied it a clever way to save fuel for the war effort. The idea caught on, and soon everyone was doing it. Many countries reverted back to standard time after the war, only to pick up daylight saving again during World War II. Daylight saving time is now used in over 70 countries worldwide, although the beginning and end dates vary from country to country.
Because daylight saving time was established for historical reasons that have little bearing on modern society, and because the actual energy savings of turning the clocks forward have since been hotly contested, some will argue that we should do away with daylight saving time altogether. On the other hand, why can’t we rid ourselves of standard time—which, by the way, only encompasses about four months of the year at this point—and enjoy longer evenings year round? Here are three reasons why the latter option makes a lot more sense.
A growing body of research indicates that switching the clocks back or forward can have adverse health effects, by disrupting our sleep patterns and leading to short-term sleep deprivation. For instance, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the incidence of heart attacks is significantly higher for the first three days after the transition to daylight saving time in the spring. Risk of heart attack was also higher on the first weekday following the transition out of daylight saving time in the fall. A study published last year corroborated this find, revealing a 21-25% jump in heart attack incidence on the first workday after switching the clocks.
If turning the clocks either direction is a source of undue insomnia and stress, one might argue that we simply abolish daylight saving time. But a forthcoming paper authored by researchers at Brookings Institution and Cornell suggests the opposite.
According to this study, making daylight saving time permanent could dramatically reduce the number of rapes and robberies, which most often occur in the evening commuting hours between 5 and 8 pm. The researchers note that when Congress increased the period of daylight saving time by four weeks in 2007, “robbery rates for the entire day fall an average of 7 percent, with a much larger 27 percent drop during the evening hour that gained some extra sunlight.” This led to an estimated annual social cost savings of $59 million.
And no, the drop in evening crime wasn’t compensated by an increase in morning assaults. Criminals (shocker) don’t appear to be early birds.
How many people do you know who look forward to spending their entire evening in darkness four months out of the year? Commuting home in darkness. Going on a run after work in darkness—or better yet, not, because it isn’t safe. Picking up your kids after school as the sun’s final fleeting rays bend distressingly low across the horizon. When the sky goes dark before you’ve finished your daily grind and gotten a chance to relax, an irresistible little voice starts whispering in your ear. You know the one I’m talking about. “Don’t even bother going out and enjoying the world,” the voice says. “It’s been a long day. There’s a frozen pizza in your freezer. There’s a new season of Supernatural on Netflix.” How many hours of human creativity and productivity have been wasted in the name of inexplicably early evenings we can only imagine.
Daylight saving time might have a weird, misguided origin story, but that doesn’t make standard time better. If there’s one thing nearly all human beings will agree on, it’s that we like the goddamn Sun. Let’s stop needlessly wasting it.
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