Daylight saving time, or DST, is about to end, with almost the entire country moving its clocks back an hour early in the morning of November 6. Besides making the world seem like a darker place, one effect of this event is a huge proliferation of articles proclaiming that DST is a garbage idea that needs to end. What these articles tend to ignore is that DST is a bizarre idea in the best way possible: It is a human attempt to force our lives to fit the natural world in a more sensible way, to #lifehack ourselves into a pattern of living that benefits our minds and bodies. DST is both a rebellion against the clock and an acceptance that we are all slaves to the clock.
It is amazing that anything this wacky, this totally loopy, ever actually took hold, and it’s even more amazing that it’s not just accepted but the norm. And the reason it became the norm is because, though it certainly isn’t perfect, it is extremely hard to argue that DST on the whole does more harm than good.
The fundamental misunderstanding of DST is a result of us Americans (humans, really) being impatient and all too willing to miscalculate the the harm of short-term problems over subtle long-term benefits. Remember! DST is not the two days per year (“fall back” and “spring forward”) when we move our clocks around. DST is eight months long; those two days are the beginning and the end of DST. To focus on just those two days is ridiculous, says David Prerau, the author of Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time and one of the world’s leading authorities on DST.
“There’s a big difference between the effects of the one-hour change from standard time to daylight saving time—those effects take place over a day, maybe up to three days—versus daylight saving time itself, which lasts eight months,” he says.
Critics of DST often focus their criticisms around those two days per year, citing confusion, schedule disruption, and even health problems. A 2012 study indicated that in the few days around the springtime clock change (the beginning of DST, in other words), incidents of heart attack rose by 10 percent. Never mind that heart attacks were found to decrease around the time of the autumn clock change … also by 10 percent. Never mind that heart attacks are much more likely to come in the winter and early spring than any other time of year, period. Statistics like that are pretty easy to twist to your liking.
In reality, DST is an eight-month experiment designed to make life, well, more pleasurable for humans. The basic idea: In the Western world, we typically spend more awake time in the evenings than in the mornings. We also enjoy many benefits from being awake in the sunshine. This National Institutes of Health overview is a good place to read about vitamin D, increased exercise, increased socializing, and overall improvements to mental health that come with sunlight.
Absent DST, for eight months per year, our days would not be structured to enjoy the most sunlight possible
Absent DST, for eight months per year our days would not be structured to enjoy the most sunlight possible. Our mornings would be bright and cheerful, but the sun would tend to be set before we leave work each day. This stinks! This gives the average 9-5 adult very little time to enjoy sunlight. So during the spring, summer, and early autumn, we tweak it, just a bit, so that there’s more sunlight in the evening. In the winter, we abandon DST, because there just isn’t enough sunlight to make a difference. Winter is pretty much a dark hellworld no matter how it’s scheduled. Winter DST would give us a very very late sunrise and not enough light in the evening to provide the effects we want.