We’re creatures of habit. No matter how harried or chaotic our lives may be, our bodies thrive on a routine cycle. It’s called a circadian rhythm. It’s also called a biological clock. It’s an internal mechanism that tells us when we would should sleep and when we should wake. It tells us when to feel tired and lethargic, and when to feel peppy and energetic.
Messing with our circadian rhythm tends to leave us in a sleep-deprived mess, stumbling bleary-eyed through the day. And yet, twice every year, our government (in most states) mandates that we throw our personal biological clocks into temporary chaos by springing forward or falling back one hour.
It’s called daylight saving time, of course, and lots of people love it, and lots of people hate it. Here’s how it got started…
War and Peace
In 1916 World War I was raging at a fevered pitch. As nations fought for dominance, many of the natural resources that fueled the war effort were in short supply. One of those resources was energy. And in 1916, Germany enacted daylight saving time in an effort to conserve energy.
It wasn’t a new idea. The concept of adjusting clocks to maximize the use of available sunlight had been around for a while. But Germany was the first to implement the practice. Germany’s enemies soon followed suit, with the United States implementing daylight saving time in 1918.
Daylight saving time was repealed in the U.S. in 1919 at the war’s end, and then returned as “war time” from 1942 to 1945 during World War II.
A Time of Confusion
In the years following World War II, daylight saving time was implemented across America according to local preferences. Since no federal law mandated guidelines for DST, state governments were free to implement DST or not. And states that opted to implement DST were able to choose any schedule they wished for their local version of DST. America became a chaotic jumble of local time zones.
The resulting headaches of trying to coordinate everything from airline schedules to TV programming became so colossal that the Federal Government mandated guidelines for DST in 1966. States were still free to implement DST or not, but those states that used DST were required to do so according to the Federal timetable.
In the years since, the Federal law has been tweaked several times. In 2007, Congress mandated that DST begin earlier and end later than ever before. And while most states now observe DST, Arizona and Hawaii do not.
Is DST Helpful or a Headache?
Few people are on the fence about DST. Most either love it or hate it. But whether you like it or loathe it, the facts indicate that DST doesn’t really offer the energy-saving benefits that originally inspired it.
When Indiana decided to implement DST statewide in 2006, the University of California performed a study to determine whether energy savings resulted. They found that energy costs actually rose as a result of the implementation of DST. Pollution was also increased as a by-product of generating the extra electricity that was consumed as a consequence of DST.
Switching back and forth between standard time and DST even directly impacts our health. According to a report by the American Journal of Cardiology, there’s a spike in heart attacks every time we spring forward and fall back.
Don’t Blame Old Benjamin…
Benjamin Franklin is often credited (or blamed!) with the invention of DST. But in fact, Franklin never advocated that we fiddle with our clocks each spring and fall. Instead, he satirically recommended that we rise and retire earlier each day so that our daily activities were more in synch with the sun’s cycle.
While a visitor in Paris, Franklin calculated (with tongue firmly in cheek) that Parisians could save millions of pounds of candles by simply arising and retiring with the sun. (Franklin himself loved to burn the midnight candle and sleep well past the dawning of the day!)
So whether you’re a fan of DST or consider it a despicable deviation of nature, don’t look to Benjamin as the cause of each year’s springing and falling. Instead, you can blame (or praise) those rascally politicians.