Too Much Ado About Daylight-Saving Time

In the wee hours of March 10th, we in the U.S. dutifully reset our clocks forward by an hour, signaling the switch to daylight saving time. Oh, joy! Now I can look forward to having the midsummer Sun set after 8 p.m., and it won't get fully dark for at least another hour after that.

Daylight time around the world
Daylight-saving time is an annoyance for backyard astronomers.
J. Kelly Beatty
I don't know about you, but our annual switch to daylight time (called "summer time" most everywhere outside the U.S.) does amateur astronomy no favors. Most nights, by the time Sagittarius is up high enough to be seen well, I'm ready to put my head down for sleep.

Things were bad enough — "springing ahead" in April and "falling back" in October — but a few years ago Congress meddled further with Mother Nature when it passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and decreed that daylight-saving time would be extended, beginning in 2007. Now we make the switch from the second Sunday of March until the first Sunday in November, which is about two-thirds of the year. Canada followed our lead, but European countries wait another three weeks to make the switch and Mexico another four.

Much of the world used to observe Daylight Saving Time, but then thought better of it.
Wikimedia Commons
In fact, although about 75 countries observe some form of summer time, it's mostly a high-latitude phenomenon. Most of the world's population (150+ countries) avoids it altogether, and of course when northern countries are using it, our friends Down Under are not.

So how did all this come about in the first place? During his time as America's envoy to France, Benjamin Franklin once famously (but anonymously) wrote that Parisians could economize on candles by firing cannons at sunrise to get the populace on their feet sooner during summer.

But the tongue-in-cheek Franklin didn't propose changing clocks. For that, I blame golf.

This 1918 poster announces the adoption of Daylight Saving Time during World War I.
Wikimedia Commons
Let's turn back the clock to 1907, when Englishman William Willett published The Waste of Daylight. It seems that Willett, an avid golfer, wanted to spend more time after work working on his putting. So he proposed advancing the clock during summer months. His idea didn't take hold until World War I, when many nations briefly adopted daylight time to conserve energy. After that DST was off-again, on-again here in the U.S., making a comeback during World War II, until Congress made it permanent in 1966.

Remarkably, this time-honored practice has been, and continues to be, controversial. Arizona and Hawaii keep standard time year round; until recently most of Indiana did too. Farmers don't like it. Backyard astronomers don't like it. The date switch in 2007 cost an estimated $500 million to $1 billion. Twice-a-year clock shifts cause confusion, disrupt your sleep, and, according to Swedish researchers, might even increase your risk of a heart attack.

The usual justification for advancing the clock is energy savings. The logic here is that by having more daylight in the evening hours, we use less lighting. But in 1966, when DST became the law of the land, air conditioning wasn't nearly as pervasive as it is now.

At the request of Congress, the Department of Energy analyzed the effects of daylight time's extension in 2007 and concluded that there might be an energy saving of 0.5%. But other findings challenge that assessment. Some studies show that daylight time causes us to use more energy, because we run the AC longer in late afternoon during summer and need more heat on sunless spring and fall mornings.

In October 2008 researchers Matthew Kotchen and Laura Grant (University of California, Santa Barbara) detailed what happened when Indiana caved in and adopted daylight-saving time in 2006. They find that Indianans' energy bills rose about 1% overall after the switch — and 2% to 4% in late summer and early fall. Kotchen told me increased energy use might prove even higher in the South (he's working on it), and he questions the methodology used in the much-touted DOE study.

So the debate goes on. If Congress listened to me instead of those clock-watchers at the Department of Energy, we'd do away with this time-warp nonsense. Let's stop this confusing annual ritual and bring a little more normalcy to our daily lives.

See the excellent article in Wikipedia for more information on Daylight Saving Time.

34 thoughts on “Too Much Ado About Daylight-Saving Time

  1. Leptoquark

    The DST extension in 2007 was Congess’s way of looking like it was doing something about energy policy, while not actually doing much. I wish we would narrow it back down to about April-Sept, the way it used to be.

    I do have to say, though, that one drawback of DST is that you don’t notice the difference between summer and winter day length as much. I spent a couple years living in Japan, which doesn’t have DST. I really noticed the bright summer mornings when I would leave the house at the usual time, compared to the dark winter mornings. If Americans, especially kids, could experience a year without DST, I think they would feel more connected to the seasons, in some way.

  2. Mike

    I always suspected that the energy use argument was bogus due to the probable increased use of A/C when daylight hours are extended. Glad to find out my suspicions are based on fact, though it’s unlikely the government will take action on this ridiculous twice yearly ritual.

  3. Jonathan McDowell

    And while we’re at it, let’s abolish time zones and all use TCB like FSM intended!

  4. BibleBeeSenior

    I live in Ohio, but I never change my clocks for DST. I just subtract an hour whenever someone tells me the time for something when everyone else is an hour ahead. DST is such a ridiculous time-warping practice!

  5. Grant Miller

    I too dislike DST and wish it would go away. One of the very few good uses for it that I recognize is evening outdoor summertime sports activities for the few unfortunate locations that do not have lighted fields.

    Supposedly the stress of DST also increases heart attacks slightly. What is the monetary cost to US businesses and citizens having to change all the clocks twice yearly.

    The Sun did its job just fine without us messing with it.

  6. michal

    I live in West Lafayette, IN and I hate it, hate it hate it. We just started observing DST and worse yet, were placed in the eastern time zone. No place except Michigan’s UP is farther west in that time zone. The result is that in mid July the sun doesn’t cross the meridian until 1:55PM! Did I mention I hate it? Also means I’m getting up in the dark to go to work almost all year. I used to like morning work-outs but now too dangerous to ride a bike in the dark with all the sleepy folk on cell phones. Oh. you really got me started, Kelly!

  7. Michael Swanson

    Daylight Savings Time is a misnomer. How is it in modern day America, we continue, year after year, to participate in this ridiculous, counter-productive ritual? I have family in Arizona and they don’t participate in this nonsense. Let’s write our representatives in congress and abolish this, shall we?

  8. Martian Bachelor

    If it’s such a great idea, why only one hour of it? Wouldn’t 1 1/2 or 2 hours be even better?

    But why stop there? 12 or 24 hours should be 12x or 24x times better still. We could even save entire MONTHS and YEARS if we put these principles to their maximum use.

    Really, we should start a (spoof) movement just to see how far moronic politicians could be bamboozled.

    For April Fool’s Day we could make a call to issue a vital immediate national recall of all sundials, because they fail to show the correct, gubmint-approved time. Ha!

    Of course if they tried to pass a law making everyone get up and go to bed an hour earlier, the whole nation would be up in arms…

  9. G P Hanner

    Daylight Saving Time is idiotic at the start. In the northern hemisphere there is more daylight than darkness from the spring equinox to the autumn equinox. The amount of daylight is what it is: You are just getting up an hour earlier and the level of daylight depends on which spring or summer month we are in.

    I tend to ignore DST as much as possible. My two dogs, one of which is diabetic, don’t know about DST. They need to be fed at a consistent time all the time. In winter we get up at 0700 local and the dogs are fed about 20 minutes later; they are fed again at 1900 local. When DST is imposed on us, we get up at 0800 local and follow our routine. The dogs don’t know the difference. I can do that because I don’t have a job to go to.

  10. Gerry

    As a dark skies campaigner I had a call from a riding school asking my advice about floodlighting to let the children do some work with the horses in winter after school. The owner said that if we put our clocks back the hour to match the rest of Europe she wouldn’t need the lights. Amateur astronomers should be careful what they wish for, because the extra hour of evening daylight reduces the imperative to instal outside lighting.

  11. John

    Actually, not all of Arizona remains on standard time. The Navajo reservation does DST. I like the fact that we remain on standard time. Now, the programs I watch are on one hour earlier!

    John

  12. Lou

    Yeah, I also don’t bother with DST (l live in the UK and remain on GMT all-year round). I laugh at those who change all their clocks/watches twice per year…

  13. Athos Robinson

    We are the same regime in Chile. Santiago is at 70ºW, Time zone +5. From 1947 we use TZ+4. From 1968, we use TZ+3 from October till Mars. From 2012, this DST was extended between September through April. We S&T readers are astronomy minded, and is logic to us DO NOT CHANGE cosmic issues. Law makers don¡t think about people, only energy enterprises. Final payer are ever the human persons, with biologic rhythms, circadian rhythm. Recently, newspapers said there is an economy of 0.1% on October 2011, and 0,6% on April 2012. When will be the time to put the human being as the first and central interest?

  14. Phil

    I too dislike DST, on principle as well as how it disrupts observing schedules; it’s like a wasted hour in getting started with an evening’s viewing and a lost hour in trying to stay awake! Now that it ends in November, it turns out that the LATEST SUNRISE of the year is in the first week of November, NOT around the winter solstice. How out of whack is that?!

  15. BibleBeeSenior

    I wrote to Obama and the governor and representatives of Ohio a couple of years ago about DST, and I encourage everyone else to do the same; the more who complain about it, the more likely someone will do something about it. However, I think the best thing would be to write up a petition and get a lot of people to sign it (maybe this could be a project for Sky & Telescope)? Anyway, until then, I won’t ever be participating in the nonsense!

  16. Michael

    The real reason that Bush extended Daylight Saving to the end of the first week of November was because of lobbying by the candy industry. The extra hour of daylight on Halloween was estimated to result in $200 million of extra candy sales because kids could stay out on the streets longer.

  17. Fred Higgins

    I understand that Congress, in another brilliant move, is considering passing a law that requires that your Body Mass Index be set back 5 points from April to August so that we will all look better in our swimwear for summer. Also, your cholesterol count would be reduced by 50 points from November to January so that you won’t feel so guilty about eating those wonderful holiday meals.

    Makes about as much sense as DST!

  18. Roger Cole

    I work a lot of nights. DST allows me to see some daylight (and see the sky on my nights off.) The energy use argument is bogus, but what isn’t bogus is that most people can use daylight at the end of their day much better than daylight at the beginning. I love it – leave it alone, or expand it to year round, but don’t take my DST away!

    It isn’t "idiotic" just because you don’t like it. No one (with any sense anyway) thinks it makes more total daylight. What it does is ensure we all shift our schedules at the same time so we have more daylight in our evenings and less in our mornings. That’s awesome for me and for a lot of other people as well.

  19. Stop The Madness

    Get up earlier, put your clothes on, throw down your juice and vitamins if you dare. Feel numb, disoriented and pukey. Go to work. Drink a lot of jack. Your eating schedule is out of wack. So is your whole body function routine. Drive home in a creeping traffic jam and the sun glaring thru the windshield blinds you. The radio has nothing on but gab, schlock and trash. Get inside your place, turn on the TV. Congress agrees totally, all parties, to give themselves another pay raise, extend the Daylight "Savings (NOT!)" Time to provide themselves with more time for golf or going to sleazy strip joints or whatever – yet they keep haggling (with riders and pork) about getting relief to the residents of New York State/New Jersey/New England who need help NOW while Bruce Springsteen and friends raise up over $23 million in a single night. Am I bugging ya? Don’t mean to bug ya :)

  20. Peter WilsonPeter

    To save even more energy, congress is considering a law that requires the use of centigrade April through October, and fahrenheit November through March.

  21. Marty

    I absolutely loathe DST. I always have. I love the night. I hate getting up in the dark in the Spring, and I hate it when it doesn’t get dark until 10:30 or 11:00 in the middle of the Summer. This is an example of golf-playing politicians running our lives for their own convenience.
    As my own simple, personal protest, I have an old wind-up clock in the basement that I NEVER set to DST. It keeps terrible time… I have to give it a nudge one way or the other most every evening… but it NEVER gets set to DST…

  22. Pete Jackson

    If DST were abolished, the daylight problem wouldn’t go away.
    Schools would vary their start times depending on the season so that the kids wouldn’t have to go to school during darkness in the winter. Construction trades like to start early in the morning in summer compared to winter, so they would all switch their start times at various dates of the year if there were no DST. And there is a huge leisure industry that needs long daylight hours after work (sports, yardwork, barbecues, etc.) that would pressure employers to switch to earlier start and quitting times in the summer. So we would have a cacophony of seasonal changes to work hours instead of the one uniform DST change. Maybe that would be preferable, for all to switch the times as best suits them. But there would still be seasonal time changes, DST or not.

  23. David

    The oddest exception to DST in Canada is my home province of Saskatchewan. The meridian on which Mountain Time is based, the 105th, runs right through the middle of the province. Back in the 1950s there was much confusion and controversy as some of the cities went on Daylight Time, while others and some of the rural areas remained on standard time. The debate became heated and even ludicrous. I recall a sign outside a Saskatoon church displaying Mountain Standard Time with the heading, "God’s Time!"

    The Saskatchewan claimed to have avoided the switch to and from Daylight Savgovernment stepped in, putting the entire province on Central Standard Time year around. Well, Central Standard and Mountain Daylight Time are one and the same. So, in reality, Saskatchewan remains on Daylight Saving Time throughout the year.

  24. Bob Bickers

    I for one LOVE DST. I actually enjoy having an extra hour after work to spend on outdoor activities. We’re simply transferring an our of daylight from the morning to the evening. None of this would even be necessary if we weren’t so attached to our clocks and inflexible in our schedules. Wake up at dawn and by nightfall, you’d be ready to go to bed and turn out the lights. It probably would help most people with their sleep cycles too, not to mention reducing the need for outdoor lighting. Want night to come sooner? Sleep in and start your day later. Rather have a full day fishing? Well, you know what to do…

  25. Jim DeCamp

    Singapore, only slightly more than a degree north of the equator, is effectively on DST year round. Sunset varies from 6:50 to 7:20 PM over the course of a year. Just enough time to get in nine holes and head over to Raffles for a Singapore Sling.

    It is the unfortunate lot of amateur astronomers, that the rest of world pursues their outdoor pleasures almost exclusively in daylight and adjusts their working hours to accommodate living in the light of day.

    I do not know if the "golf causes daylight savings time" anecdote is true, but I believe that the reason that DST begins on the first Sunday in November is so that children can Trick or Treat before night falls in the northern states. National Fire Prevention month is in October, because people were reminded to change the batteries in their smoke detectors when they set their clocks back, thereby making good use of the extra hour in the annual 49 hour weekend. DST moved to November, but NFP month is still in October.

  26. Jim DeCamp

    One interesting side effect of DST is that the art deco clock towers that bookend Hoover Dam, prominently labeled "Nevada Time" and "Arizona Time" display the same time all summer, during the busy tourist season. The Colorado River, marking the boundary between Arizona and Nevada also marks the division of the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones. As noted in the article, Arizona declines to participate in DST, and during the summer they are on the same timescale as Nevada.

    I worked, briefly, in the western Aleutians. The Aleutians are about 30 degrees in longitude west of Anchorage, but only set their clocks back one additional hour to facilitate interfaces with mainland. Anchorage’s longitude should put it two time zones behind Pacific Time, but they only set their clocks one hour behind, meaning, on average, clocks in the Aleutians are two hours ahead of the sun. During DST, three. Since the place where I worked was on the western extreme, in the Eastern Hemisphere, during DST clocks were something like 3:20 ahead of the sun. Normal shifts were 5:00 to 5:00 (am or pm depending on your shift). So rising at 4:00 am for work, the sky thought it was 12:40 AM.

    Kelley really needs to get on second shift.

  27. John Newman

    Here is Australia the country folk in the Deep North, namely Queensland, would have enormous problems with their curtains fading (because of the extra daylight) if they had DST.

    Of course those of us south of the Tweed just enjoy the extra hours after work.

    The only real justification for whining about it is that the cows dont know its DST but the people handling the animals do know its DST and expect to be paid.

    From an astronomical point of view it makes no difference one way or the other.

  28. Stan

    I have to be on the side of Daylight Saving Time. I like it. In the summer, the days are longer, and it happens on both ends of the day. But an extra hour of daylight from 5AM to 6AM is worse than useless. I still have to go to work at the same time, so I can’t use that hour for anything good, and I have to spend effort blocking it out of my room so I can sleep. So moving that hour to the end of the day is a much better choice.

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