And why this could be the last time Americans do the twice-yearly ritual of changing the clocks.
After months of “springing forward,” much of the country will start “falling back” an hour with daylight saving time set to expire on Sunday, Nov. 6. Naturally, the twice-yearly tradition will likely draw some mixed reactions: Some may enjoy more time to snooze, while others may miss that extra hour of daylight.
Whatever your stance on the long-held tradition, this could be one of the last times in U.S. history that clocks fall back to what’s known as “standard time.” On March 15, 2022, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill to make daylight saving time or DST year-round.
“I know this is not the most important issue confronting America, but it’s one of those issues where there’s a lot of agreement,” said Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who’s one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “If we can get this passed, we don’t have to do this stupidity anymore.”
But it may not make as much of a difference as you might think. In many ways, daylight saving time is the new standard — it already controls eight months out of the year. And while you’d think we’d have the hang of it by now, daylight saving time is still a bit of a mystery. Before it even comes to getting the time right, many of us can’t even get the name right, often mistakenly referring to it as daylight savings time.
So, what’s the deal with daylight saving time? Where did it come from and what’s the point of changing the clocks twice a year — other than keeping us all on our toes? We’re breaking down the odd history of this tradition and where efforts to make daylight saving time permanent stand now.
When do we change the clocks twice a year?
Since 2007, we’ve been moving clocks forward an hour on the second Sunday of March and then back an hour on the first Sunday of November. Nowadays, daylight saving controls the clock for roughly 34 weeks or 8 months of the year, which is more than what it used to be. That’s because lawmakers have continuously extended the summertime schedule over the last few decades, with the first major shift in 1986 when daylight saving moved from the last Sunday in April to the first.
“Standard time is a little bit of a misnomer because we’re on daylight saving eight months out of the year,” says Steve Calandrillo, who researches daylight saving time and is a law professor at the University of Washington. “We’re only on standard time for roughly four months out of the year.”
But some states have chosen to opt out of daylight saving time and stay on standard time during the summer months. For instance, Hawaii and most of Arizona keep their clocks the same as do several U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Lucky them!
The history of daylight saving time
America’s founding father Benjamin Franklin is often thought of as coming up with the idea of shifting clocks, but the truth is he suggested it as a joke. In a satirical essay entitled “An Economical Project” published in 1784, he suggested that Parisians wake up when the sun comes up to help save money on lamp oil and candles.
The concept that we know today is actually credited to century entomologist George Hudson, who proposed the two-hour time shift to the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1895. But his idea was mocked and was largely ignored until British builder William Willett (the great-great-grandfather of Coldplay frontman Chris Martin) came along and proposed it to England’s Parliament, which also shot it down.
Shifting clocks wasn’t taken seriously until 1916 when Germany became the first country to enact the time change during World War I, and before long, other countries like England followed suit. The United States wasn’t far behind either: Congress passed the first law to save daylight in 1918. This legislation resurfaced during World War II, but it didn’t become permanent until 1966 under the Uniform Time Act.
Though these moves were in largely response to conserving energy during wartime, daylight saving isn’t necessarily associated with saving oil and electricity anymore. During the 1970s, the Department of Transportation concluded that springing forward an hour amounted to a 1 percent in total energy savings, but in more recent decades, central heat and air have offset this reduction. For instance, a 2011 Yale study found that moving clocks forward actually costs Indiana households an extra $9 million per year in electricity bills on heating and cooling.
Why lawmakers are trying to make daylight saving time permanent
Congress can’t seem to agree on much right now in a highly polarizing political climate, except of course for their contempt for changing clocks twice a year. In March, the Senate unanimously approved the Sunshine Protection Act, which wouldn’t make daylight saving time permanent until 2023.
Advocates who hope to make daylight saving permanent say it would not only boost economic activity because people are more likely to shop during daytime hours but it would also reduce car accidents. The research backs this up: a 2020 study from science publisher Cell Press found that fatal traffic accidents in the U.S. rose 6 percent in the week after the start of daylight saving time. Getting an early start would also tamp down on crime: Assaults dropped immediately following the start of daylight saving time, compared with the following week, according to the study published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology.
But the bill remains up in the air. Though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has signaled support for the measure, it hasn’t been scheduled yet for debate in the chamber, and President Biden hasn’t said whether he would ever sign such a bill into law.
If one thing is clear, it’s that the shift would have the support. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states have passed legislation or enacted resolutions that would switch to permanent daylight saving time if Congress allowed it. In terms of public support, a CBS poll in April found that nearly half of all Americans — 46 percent — prefer daylight saving time year-round, compared with 33 percent who preferred standard time year-round and 21 percent wanted to stick to switching the clock twice a year.
What would be the health impacts of switching to daylight saving?
Experts largely agree that transitions between times can mess up people’s sleep cycles. “Even changing the clock as little as an hour can impact your sleep quality or quantity, and it may take a few days for your body to adjust to this change in schedule,” says Dr. Shelby Harris, a licensed psychologist who specializes in behavioral sleep medicine and director of sleep health at Sleepopolis. Plus, only a small percentage of people get another hour of sleep during the fall change because of sleep disruptions caused by the shift itself, according to a study published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews.
But lawmakers might not want to get rid of standard time just yet because it could be better for people’s health. Turning clocks back an hour is linked with a 21 percent drop in daily heart attacks, compared with a 24 percent increase when losing an hour, according to a study published in the medical journal Open Heart. This spike leveled off, though, as the week wore on and people’s bodies were able to adjust.
“It’s a pattern that we see over and over again — when we fall back in early November, we see this decrease in heart attacks, and then when we kind of jump forward in the spring we see an increase in them,” Joseph E. Ebinger, M.D., who’s a director at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai, told Katie Couric Media.
So, the bottom line is to be kind to your body this weekend as it adjusts to the time change and make sure you take advantage of getting more time to catch a few more winks of sleep.
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