Dora Guo

It’s about time we bid adieu to the worn out and irrational tradition of changing our clocks twice a year. Instead, we should make daylight saving time, or DST, our schedule year-round.

The phenomenon of DST was initially proposed by New Zealander George Hudson, an entomologist who wanted daylight to last two hours later in the summer so he could go bug catching into the evening. Seven years later, the same idea was independently proposed to Parliament by William Willet, a British builder, as a way to help England make the most of daylight. Parliament rejected the proposal, but the idea was passed onto other countries.

Soon into World War I, Germany implemented DST in order to save fuel: Moving the extra hour of sunlight later in the day would decrease the need for man-made light. Nearly every other country that fought in World War I quickly followed suit, with the United States enacting DST in 1918 with the Standard Time Act. While many believe DST was created to help farmers, the change in sunlight caused a disconnect between the farmers’ schedules, which followed clock time, and the plants’ and animals’ schedules, which followed solar time. The agriculture industry ended up lobbying against DST in 1919.

The incentive behind DST as proposed by Willet is clear: It makes better use of the extra hour of sunlight in the summer. This makes sense, since daylight is of far better use later in the day. Many more people are awake and productive at five in the afternoon than they are at six in the morning, and violent crime rates, which are higher in the dark, are undeniably worse at night.

DST is also advantageous over standard time in terms of biology. The human body uses the sun for both vitamin D and as a trigger for our circadian clock, our body’s internal timekeeper. By moving the hour of sunlight later in the day, when more people are up and outside, there is a higher exposure to vitamin D, a chemical that has been proven to help fight depression. Many cases of seasonal depression begin when DST ends each fall. Sunlight sets our circadian clocks — which means we are more productive when it is light outside. When the sky gets pitch black at 5 p.m. — as happens in the winter in northern states under our current system — our minds perceive the darkness as a signal that the day has come to an end, and we get tired and unproductive.

It is apparent that DST, when solar and clock times are aligned, is the healthier and more efficient choice. There is, thus, no plausible explanation as to why we decide to switch back to standard time in the winter — wasting our even more precious sunlight and leaving us groping around in the dark as early as 4:30 p.m. — instead of remaining on the schedule that utilizes daylight best year-round. “Falling back,” as it is called, makes the already dark days of winter increasingly gloomy with no apparent positive.

Disregarding the inefficiency of standard time, the transition between the times itself has a negative effect, both mentally and physically. Fall and spring transitions lead to a shift in our circadian clocks, which causes a disruption in our sleep schedule. Consistent sleep is necessary for stability, and the jostling that comes with the time change is straining on the brain.

The transitional repercussions pose a real danger when the clocks “spring forward.” While turning the clocks back results in an extra hour of sleep, turning the clocks forward steals an hour of sleep — which in turn creates significant risks. The spring transition has been found to raise the risk of heart attacks by 21 percent the day after the clocks change, while car crashes increase by 6 percent. This alone leads to an additional 28 deaths each year. It has even been shown to increase suicides and miscarriages. All this could be prevented by simply eliminating the transitions and extending DST year-round.

As of 2020, DST has been used in the United States for just a little over one hundred years — more than enough time to realize that staying on DST throughout the long and already dark winter months would be much more beneficial than our current system. Fortunately, action to extend DST has already begun. Over the past three years, 13 states have passed legislation to adopt DST year-round. However, full-time DST policies are inconsistent with the Uniform Time Act of 1966, which established uniform DST throughout the nation. The legislation thus requires congressional approval.

It’s time for Congress to take action to make DST permanent and let our winters be as bright as possible.

Kaitlin Flores | kaitlin.flores@yale.edu