On the first Sunday in November, millions of people will set their clocks back an hour, marking the end of daylight saving time.
But while this autumnal tradition is engrained in our brains (and the extra hour of sleep circled on our calendars), most of us still don’t know the scoop behind this semi-annual event.
But don’t worry — I’ve got you. Let’s take a few minutes out of your free hour to bust some myths about why we even have daylight saving time to begin with.
1. This is all because of farmers, right?
Historically, no. It turns out they kind of hate it.
Farmers are known the world over for two things: 1) getting up early and 2) working really hard. But, historically, it’s the sun, not the clock that kicks off their day, so while people often blame daylight saving time on the farmers, that time jump is actually really disruptive for them. Shipments and orders still need to be filled at the same time, but there’s one less hour of morning daylight to get things done.
What you might know is that farmers and the agriculture lobby actually fought to repeal daylight saving time in 1919, and it passed after Congress overrode President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. But, as you may have guessed, that veto didn’t last long.
2. OK, but springing forward saves a ton of energy and money, right?
Well, that was the plan anyway.
At the dawn of World War I, Germany thought, “Hey, we should turn the clocks back to help save coal and reduce lighting needs for the war effort.” So, in 1916, they became the first country to give it a try (a few places in Canada had tried it before then as well). Before long, other countries were like, “Yeah, they’re onto something.” Daylight saving time arrived in the U.K. a few weeks later and then in the U.S. (as a temporary measure) in 1918.
After a few more experiments with daylight saving time, the U.S. made it permanent in 1966 with the Uniform Time Act.
But does it actually save us energy? Kind of.
In a 2007 study, economists at the California Energy Commission found that extending daylight saving time a few weeks had little effect on energy use in the state. In fact, the drop was 0.2%, within the study’s margin of error. But a 2008 study by the federal energy department found extending daylight saving time saved 0.5% in total electricity each day. It doesn’t sound like much, but that’s about 1.3 billion kilowatt hours, enough to power 100,000 homes for a year.
3. But most people like it and that’s why everyone participates, right?
Nope. Not quite.
The United States aren’t so united on this issue, with Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation) and Hawaii electing to sit out the semi-annual time jump. Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa don’t participate either.
The U.S. is one of more than 70 countries around the world that observe some form of daylight saving time. (As a reminder, there are just under 200 countries on Earth.)
4. Money saving or not, the time change is good for your body and mind, right?
Again, that depends.
The smart folks at Scientific American examined two daylight saving time related health phenomena.
First, the incidence of heart attacks rose about 5% during the first week of daylight, at least according to a study conducted in Sweden in the late-1980s. The same researchers published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008 suggesting the increase may be due to sleep disruptions and biological rhythms getting out of whack.
By the same token, there are fewer automobile versus pedestrian traffic accidents since more people are driving home during sunlight.
Then again, correlation is not causation. So what do I (or those smart folks) know? Basically, the jury’s out on this one.
5. Fine. But there’s definitely an S on “daylight savings,” right?
No, I haven’t been using the wrong word this entire time. It’s daylight saving time. I promise. Google it.
Somewhere along the way, we all made it plural when we started explaining it. But you know what, don’t worry about trying to break the habit. Language is fluid. Time is a construct. Just roll with it.
So, you ask, why are we still trying to make this a thing?
Well, twice a year, plenty of people ask that very question. And the chorus against daylight saving time is growing stronger and stronger at the state level, where elected officials are pushing bills from coast to coast to relegate daylight saving time to the history books.
“What is the use in having this?” Texas State Representative Dan Flynn (R) told the NBC affiliate in Dallas. “And no one has a good reason.”
He’s not wrong.
But no matter how you feel about daylight saving versus standard time, it’s here, and we all get an extra hour this weekend.
My recommendation: Use your hour to do what makes you happy. (And by the way, it’s not really an extra hour, it’s just the hour the government swiped from you in the spring.) Either way, make the most of it. Sleep in. Volunteer. Take a hike. Catch up on “Luke Cage.”
But get going, you only have a few more minutes.
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