Daylight Saving Time: An Exposée

By Lauren Herber, Editor-in-Chief

Rise and shine, Das Tor readers. It’s time for everyone’s (or at least 48 out of the 50 U.S. states) favorite time of year. The time of year when the birds start singing, the flowers begin to bloom, the sun finally regains some of its strength…and 96% of the nation moves their clocks ahead one hour, loses one hour of sleep, and snaps at each other grumpily for at least a week.

Ah, Daylight Saving Time. We all love to hate it. And don’t be fooled that those that live in Arizona and Hawaii, the only 2 U.S. states that don’t observe DST, escape scot-free. Just ask disgruntled DST victim Jake Strickler, who now has to wake up an hour earlier for East Coast-based phone calls and virtual meetings.

So how did we end up in this mess? Is it because the powers that be are inherently good people who genuinely want the citizens of the United States of America to have an additional hour of sunlight to bask in 8 months out of the year? No. If the powers that be truly were inherently good people who cared about Americans, we wouldn’t be stuck with such a lousy health care system (more that here). The real reason for Daylight Savings Time? War. And money. And profit. Lovely, right?

Courtesy Forgotten Fort Collins
Courtesy Forgotten Fort Collins

It all started during World War I. Germany, the U.S., and others borrowed a new idea about increased productivity and decreased resource use from a man named George Vernon Hudson in New Zealand. Hudson’s theory was that late-day productivity would be extended and resource consumption limited by pushing clocks up in early spring, meaning the sun would both rise and set later, thus providing more light in the afternoon and early evening. Faced with the pressures of wartime conservation, countries around the world began implementing DST to increase worker productivity and decrease the usage of artificial light, which saved fuel. During WWII, President Franklin D. Roosevelt actually implemented year-round DST as a means of saving energy.

So when the war ended, so did DST, right? Wrong. While the need to drastically conserve resources like energy was technically over, DST had also had an impact on a different type of resource: money. It turns out that people are much more likely to go shopping and spend money after work if it’s still light out when they leave. Great news for: your company’s softball league and stores that sell golf balls, grills, charcoal, and other outdoor/recreational equipment. Bad news for: people that live in rural areas and follow an “early to bed, early to rise” schedule, like farmers, who saw their already-limited window of morning daylight, which they needed to get their products to the market, diminish even further under DST.

I don't think Ol' Bessie gives a rat about DST. She wakes up when she wants. Courtesy Modern Farmer
I don’t think Ol’ Bessie gives a rat about DST. She wakes up when she wants. Courtesy Modern Farmer

To resolve the issue (and quell the rumblings of a farmer revolt), the right to decide yay or nay on DST was given to localities. This resulted in a hodge-podge mixture of cities that observed DST and rural areas that did not. As you can imagine, this system caused a fair amount of chaos, and ultimately led to the 1966 Uniform Time Act, which regulated which states observed DST, which did not, and on what dates DST would begin and end. Two decades later, however, Congress stepped in again and lengthened the period of time ruled by DST from 6 months to 7 months. Why? It should be obvious by now: money. The golf industry saw a staggering increase in revenues thanks to those extra hours of daylight, as did the barbeque industry, the candy industry (think Halloween), and many others. Lobbyists came out in full force to defend the right to worship their one true god: profit. The length of DST was extended yet again, this time to 8 months, by President George W. Bush under the guise of energy conservation.

Why is it such a big deal? It’s a big deal because it’s highly controversial. The research supporting DST and lauding its benefits is lacking and is often contradicted by opposing studies proving exactly the opposite. For example, many in the pro-DST camp tout its effects on energy consumption, arguing that DST saves energy by way of reducing the amount of time each day during which people need to use artificial light. But the anti-DST camp has fired back with studies that show that DST causes an increase in the use of heating and air conditioning, offsetting any energy saved by reduced light consumption. Another issue with DST is that—surprise, surprise—people hate change. And the hour shift in your body’s circadian rhythm might do more damage than simply increasing your caffeine intake. It can actually be dangerous to your health, with studies showing links between the days just after the switch to DST and an increased risk of having a stroke or a heart attack. Are these risks mitigated by the Vitamin D boost you experience thanks to the extra exposure to sunlight during DST? Nobody knows. DST affects mental health, as well. Those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder find the transition to be exceptionally difficult, with the unexpected new hour of darkness (whether at the beginning of the day or the end) bringing with it an onslaught of depression and fatigue.

Graph depicting the impact of DST on spending across categories in LA vs. Phoenix. Courtesy JPMorgan Chase Co.
Graph depicting the impact of DST on spending across categories in LA vs. Phoenix. Courtesy JPMorgan Chase Co.

So. Is DST a good thing, or a bad thing? It’s tough to say for certain one way or the other. But a large amount of existing evidence seems to point to the fact that change itself is a bad thing—for health and for the economy. A recent study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute set out to discover if the DST’s effect on the economy is really as good as people think. They found that yes, DST results in a boost in consumer spending—at the beginning, at least. The study compared the consumer spending habits of two cities—Los Angeles, which observes DST, and Phoenix, which does not—and found that while LA experiences an increase of 0.9% in consumer spending during the first 30 days of DST compared to spending in Phoenix, the city experiences a subsequent decrease in spending of 3.5% comparatively during the 30 days after the end of DST. Of course, the study only looked at two U.S. cities, but these preliminary findings seem to suggest that economies might be better off in the long run (or at least more stable) if we just picked one time schedule and stuck with it. But that sounds like too simple and too easy of a solution for the U.S., where anything seemingly simple is subject to convolution, complication, and chaos by lobbyists, politicians, and anyone else with an agenda. So for now, unless you plan on packing up and moving to either Hawaii or Arizona, you better stock up on coffee.