Why Daylight Saving Time Might Be Total Bullshit

Published On 11/04/2016 Published On 11/04/2016
Clock on wooden background
Chutima Chaochaiya/Shutterstock

In case you needed any further evidence that summer's over, here it is: Daylight Saving Time is coming to an end this weekend. At 2am on Sunday, everyone's clocks will roll back and cause us to lose an hour of daylight while simultaneously gaining an hour of precious sleep -- it's damn depressing stuff, unless you happen to love winter.

To keep ourselves sane, we've taken a deep dive into what makes Daylight Savings Time tick, and attempted to determine whether it's actually useful or not.

Also, here's an important note: it's Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight Savings Time. If you're like us, you've been saying it wrong all along.

How to remember Daylight Saving Time

We've all heard the "spring forward, fall back" mnemonic device, telling us to set the clocks forward in Spring and backward in the Fall, but somehow we're always flummoxed when it comes to remembering exactly when this change is supposed to happen. Turns out, it's actually the same every single year. Here's the key:

DST starts on the second Sunday in March, and ends on the first Sunday in November.

It's really that simple. As for why we do it, or why it happens when it does, well, that's a lot more complicated.

Origins of modern Daylight Saving Time

Founding father and kite enthusiast Ben Franklin is commonly credited with DST's invention, but this isn't entirely accurate. During his time as envoy to France, Franklin did publish an anonymous letter in which he presented the concept of rising earlier in the morning to take full advantage of the sunlight (and save on candle wax). That said, Franklin's letter is largely understood to be a satire -- he also suggested taxing window shutters and firing off cannons at sunrise -- and he never publicly pursued the idea beyond this publication. He did invent the Glass Armonica, though.

These days, DST is commonly attributed to one of two men (depending on who you ask): a New Zealander named George Hudson, or an Englishman named William Willett, both of whom proposed the daylight-saving idea independently around the turn of the 19th century.

It wasn't until the onset of World War I that DST was officially adopted on the national level, however -- first by the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, who called it "war time," and then shortly thereafter by the British, who gave it the more pleasant-sounding name of "summer time." Both sides had good reason to implement this time shift: in a period as rife with turmoil as WWI, optimizing usage of coal resources and daylight hours was key. The shift was generally repealed once the war ended, but got fired up again once WWII started up, implemented year-round in some countries (like the USA) and summer-only in others.

Once WWII ended, America's official nationwide policy on DST was repealed yet again, but some states kept the dream alive. A standardized nationwide DST was finally established in 1966, largely because having different states operating on different times in different time zones is, in official terms, a giant clusterfuck. The new DST ran from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October; President Reagan made some adjustments to it 20 years later, and we only recently arrived at the modern US standard of March - November in 2007. In other words, we'll be due for a change again in 10 more years.

It's important to note, though, that not every state adheres to DST: most of Arizona's been exempted since 1967, and Hawaii was never part of the Uniform Time Act. Aloha, bitches!

Does Daylight Saving Time even work?

Short answer: it's complicated.

One of the oldest arguments for DST is that it's beneficial to farmers, but the inverse is actually true: since farming's governed by the sun itself, not artificially imposed times, all it means is the farmers' infrastructure gets thrown out of whack for eight months out of the year.

Other justifications include reduced energy consumption, a lower crime rate, and fewer traffic accidents during the evening rush hour. While those changes all sound great, recent studies have suggested they're not as significant as we originally thought -- which has led to innumerable hot takes on the Internet, calling for the abolition of DST. There's no one authoritative study that we can point to as singlehandedly justifying (or debunking) DST, and so the debate rages on.

That said, many of the negatives of DST seem to stem from the period right after we make the switch in March/November: heart attacks increase on the Monday after we spring forward, and chronically losing/gaining an hour wreaks havoc on our circadian rhythm. Maybe instead of arguing over whether DST is beneficial or not, our solution should be to just the clocks forward an hour permanently. Year-round DST might be the next logical shift in our periodically changing time legislation -- or, it might just get abolished altogether.

Regardless of where you fall on the issue, one thing's clear: we should probably all just move to Hawaii.

Gianni Jaccoma is an editor for Thrillist, and he can't stop saying Savings Time. Follow his mispronunciations on Twitter @gjaccoma