Photo By: Katie Harp from Unsplash
It’s been about a week since the clocks went back an hour for daylight savings time.
It’s not a controversial opinion when I say that I absolutely hate that we do this to ourselves twice a year. Whether it’s turning the clocks forward an hour or setting them back, I fail to see any benefit to our ridiculous clock-related tradition other than getting to say, “well it’s nice to get an extra hour of sleep,” on a random Sunday in November.
Every year, just about every person on the planet in a country that observes daylight savings complains about it, every year we moan about how it gets dark at 4:30 p.m now, how our sleep cycles have been messed up, and how we keep forgetting to set the clock on the microwave to the right time. And yet, every year, we keep doing it.
Just about every year I forget when daylight savings actually is, so you could imagine my confusion when I was up late writing a paper last Sunday and it was only 1 a.m. when I could have sworn it was 1:58 a.m. last time I looked at the clock. It only took me a minute to realize that I’d missed the memo this year (again) and I had not in fact accidentally time travelled or started to lose my mind.
While that situation was a bit jarring, that’s obviously a relatively minor consequence of the whole thing. There are, however, bigger consequences when it comes time to setting our clocks backwards and forwards.
For a lot of people, sleep can be a pretty delicate thing. Anything that interrupts your circadian rhythms can throw you off for days at a time. The beginning of daylight savings (in the spring) means that we lose an hour of sleep. While an hour might not sound like a lot to you, it does make a difference. A 2020 study showed that there was a 6 per cent increase in traffic accidents in the US following daylight savings. By now we all know that driving tired can be incredibly dangerous. Why on earth, then, are we purposely stealing an hour of sleep from ourselves in the middle of the night?
It’s not just losing an hour of sleep in the spring that I hate though (and trust me, I hate it a lot), I also do not enjoy gaining an hour in the fall. While it might be nice to wake up feeling like it’s 10 a.m. when it’s only 9 a.m., the feeling goes away after about a day and then you realize that it’s getting dark at 4 p.m. and it sucks.
Another study, this one from Denmark, looked at hospital data from 1995 to 2012 and found that on average, more people (about 11 per cent more) experienced depressive episodes in the weeks following the time change. Many have attributed this to the lack of daylight in the evenings. When people spend all day at work and come home to the sun having already set, it’s not hard to see why their mental health might suffer.
So if there’s no benefit to losing an hour and the benefits of gaining an hour are outweighed by the drawbacks, then why do we still do it? I remember hearing once, in some vague kind of explanation, that it was “for the farmers,” the explanation being that it gave them more time in the fields to… do farmer stuff (it was a bad explanation). That’s not true, daylight savings has absolutely nothing to do with agriculture, in fact, most farmers hate it and have lobbied against it for decades.
So if it’s not for the farmers, what’s it for then? Well, in 2021, money and tradition mostly. It’s easy to say, “well that’s just the way we’ve always done it,” when asked about the issue. Initially, daylight savings began as an energy-saving measure, all the way back when people still used candles to light their homes. It stood to reason that if you maximized the amount of daylight in your waking hours, then you wouldn’t need as much fuel to light your home. In the age of electricity, any energy saved is pretty negligible.
It’s about retail now; if it’s still light out when people are heading home from work, it’s more likely that they’ll stop to buy something, or go out to dinner or a bar. At the end of the day though, it doesn’t really do all that much to stimulate the economy and more and more regions are doing away with it entirely and, big shocker, are doing just fine without it.
Daylight savings is one of those things that we just seem to do because we’ve been doing it for a long time. It wouldn’t take much to get rid of it entirely, but as with a lot of things, it’s easier to do nothing than something.