On Nov. 6, daylight savings time ended in Washington, setting all the clocks back an hour and giving everyone a much-needed extra hour of sleep. But does this benefit outweigh some of the side effects that we experience with this change?
First of all, how did daylight savings time come to happen? The original intention was actually to save energy, credited to Benjamin Franklin with the initial idea of saving candles. The U.S. eventually instituted it during World War I to preserve energy. Changing the clocks means more daylight in the evening, thus supposedly cutting the amount of energy needed to light the home. However, certain recent studies cast doubt on this theory, providing evidence for the converse — that daylight saving time might actually lead to greater energy use.
For example, Indiana started with daylight savings time as a statewide policy in 2006. Researchers looked at Indiana’s electricity usage and discovered that residential energy use rose by one percent after implementing this time change, translating to an extra $9 million in energy expenses. The researcher’s theory was that the extra daylight increased the need for cooling during summer evenings and for heating in the late fall and early spring.
However, another study took place in 2008 and also observed commercial energy usage, looking at 67 electrical facilities throughout the country and finding that the extension of daylight saved one-half percent of daily expended energy. Other researchers say that this could be explained by climate differences, suggesting that Florida could have even worse numbers than Idaho. Others argue that the recent growing use of electronics could be reducing the amount of energy that daylight saving time could save.
So, are these savings, which might be small at best, worth the side effects that we seem to experience afterwards? A study in Scientific Reports was also done to determine the physical effects of the change in March, when daylight saving time begins and the clocks go forward an hour, meaning that we lose an hour of sleep. The study tracked changes in participants’ sleep schedules for the week before, during, and after the start of daylight savings time. People who qualified as early rises by their genetics took at least a couple of days to get adjusted to the added daylight and loss of sleep. However, those who genetically are more likely to fall asleep later began feeling the effects after about a week. They showed symptoms of jet lag and sleep deprivation.
Traffic accidents are more common after the spring time change, along with workplace injuries. Sleep deprivation has been linked with a higher number of car accidents and also heart attacks. In Sweden, researchers found that there was a five percent rise in heart attacks during the first week of daylight saving time.
Because of the lack of agreeable research, changing energy usage patterns, protests from the farming industry and negative effects, Washington passed a bill in 2019 that would keep us permanently in daylight saving time. However, these changes can’t take place at a federal level until Congress passes a change. The U.S. Senate did unanimously vote to pass the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021, which would make daylight saving time permanent on Nov. 5, 2023. But this will only become a reality if both the House and the president approve the bill, which they have yet to do. Certain members of the House say that they’re waiting for the Department of Transportation to report on the effects a permanent change could bring. However, this analysis is due to be released on Dec. 31, 2023, after the date set in the bill.
So, for now, the clocks will keep changing and affecting our mood, health and risk factors, with little evidence to support the energy savings that daylight saving time was implemented to bring about. Perhaps in World War I there was a benefit, but daylight saving time seems to be something that the world has outgrown.