Daylight Savings Time is a big cheat

I’ve written about Daylight Savings Time before. Mainly, I think it consumes too much of a year already. And now I find that the U.S. Senate without debate unanimously passed a bill to make Daylight Savings Time (DST) year round.

Why is it that something with such major implications somehow doesn’t even get a filibuster challenge? It’s unclear if the House will vote on a similar bill, but year round Daylight Savings Time may be becoming a thing.

The U.S. Senate wants to save us from the chore of resetting our clocks twice a year. This is a lot less of a chore than it used to be because many of us have smart clocks, phones and computers that update automatically. Still, it’s not much of a bother. It takes me about two minutes twice a year.

Unfortunately my senator, Ed Markey, is a big proponent of this change. Who doesn’t like more light in the evening? I’ll tell you who shouldn’t: students, that’s who. Because we tried this before during the Arab Oil Embargo in the 1970s. I was a junior in high school at the time in Daytona Beach, Florida. The effect was for us to start classes in the dark.

The sun there rose a bit after 8 AM around the winter solstice. Our bus picked us up in the dark. Our classes started at 7:30 AM, which is unusual, but wasn’t unusual in Florida then. Lots of people were moving to Florida and not all were retirees. The schools couldn’t be made big enough fast enough (and Florida taxpayers are notorious skinflints), so Juniors and Seniors attended in the morning, and Sophomores in the afternoon. I was one of the few students in my early classes actually awake because I was generally asleep by 11 PM. Most of the students slept at their desks.

Unless school starting times are delayed to accommodate the late sunrises, this will happen again. But that largely won’t happen. School starting times depend mostly on when the bus drivers are available, so we can anticipate students will be sleeping at their desks again if this bill becomes law, if they aren’t already. Teenagers tend to need ten or more hours of sleep, and they don’t like going to bed at a reasonable hour. So yearlong DST is likely to just accelerate our national brain drain as students opt to sleep in early classes rather than learn.

In the early 1970s, the purpose of yearlong DST was to help weather the energy crisis. But it wasn’t just students that hated it. Americans in general hated it. In 1974 the law was repealed. This is likely to happen again.

The Washington Post did a study on the effects of this change. It will disproportionately affect those on the western edges of their time zones. It will be especially brutal in Indiana and Michigan when sunrises will happen between 9 and 9:30 AM around Christmas. All this to enjoy maybe a little bit of dusk around 6 PM.

DST actually makes things worse for your circadian rhythm. According to another Washington Post article, it’s like suffering from continuous jet lag.

This makes sense if you think about it. Ideally, at noon the sun would be equidistant between the eastern and the western horizons. That way the clock would align with your body’s natural circadian rhythm. You can get a sense of what this time is in your area by looking at a table of sunrises and sunsets. When I live, the sun rose today at 6:57 AM and will set at 7:02 PM. That means the sun is at its highest about 1 PM.

If we were on standard time, that would work out pretty well because the sun would be where it should be at 12 PM. But DST unnaturally pushed the clocks forward last weekend. Basically, standard time is natural at my longitude, so if I were on standard time all year round my biological clock should be happiest. But politicians won’t let me do this except for four months a year.

It’s understandable that some will be excited by longer evenings during the summer. There’s a solution to that: move north. Assuming you are on standard time, the further north, the better. Of course there’s the downside that in the winter the days will be a lot shorter. But there’s a solution to that too: move toward the equator. Live in Ecuador, say. Days are almost always about twelve hours long, so no long nights, but no long days either.

It doesn’t take much pondering to realize that the planet will keep spinning at a 23.5 degrees tilt toward the sun regardless, so you’ll never always get lots of long days. DST is essentially a cheat and an illusion.

But whether we are aware of it or not, its effects on your body are quite real. It’s probably why you drink many cups of coffee every morning. If you read the article in my last link, you’ll see that DST is associated not only with more accidents during the time change, but with adverse health effects like obesity.

Year round standard time is not a perfect solution either. Where I live, this would mean sunrises around 4:30 AM in June. We might be rising naturally around 5 AM. But if you were truly following your circadian rhythm, you probably wouldn’t be staying up late watching Stephen Colbert either. You would be retiring between 9 and 10 PM every night. And of course your evenings would be darker than you might like in the summer. Around here, it would be dark around 8 PM.

DST is a ruse to make you think you can change time, but you can’t. Instead, it stresses out your body, whether you are aware of it or not. Those into a healthy lifestyle should support yearlong standard time and wouldn’t freak out if they awake naturally around 5 AM in June. Your body will be following the sun, which is how nature intends it. You might just rid yourself of a host of maladies in doing so too.

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