“The sun gets up! And so do you! Up ear number one. Ear number two.” A Great Day for Up is one of those kids books I clearly relate to. Even a smidgen of sunshine in the morning has me jumping up from bed, happy to start the day. Yes, I’m a lark and as we approach summer solstice, I get more and more lark-like, up earlier and earlier. I even shed a pound or two–and I’m not alone. There’s a holiday coming up for people like me–Daylight Savings Time, DST, or as some call it Daylight Summer Time.
DST was started in the US in 1918 with the goal of shifting the sunrise to match the work hour. If you don’t spring ahead, the sun gets up too early to match the workweek. Also, by setting the clock earlier, employees can enjoy light when they get home, allowing them to take a walk or grill outside after the work day is done. In fact, exposure to sunlight is healthy and DST is a chance for indoor workers to get out and enjoy it. People even watch less television during daylight savings time. And yes, in the North, it saves energy by allowing people to use the sun instead of lights in the evening. Overall, about 0.5% less energy is consumed in the United States due to DST. Crime rates drop. There are fewer car and pedestrian accidents than seen in Standard Time. It gives tourism a boost. Over 70 countries, including Canada have adopted the practice.
The practice of setting clocks ahead began in Germany during WWI as an energy-saving measure but quickly spread across the globe. It’s fallen in and out of use in Europe and in the United States but has been a staple in the United States since 1966 and in Europe, beginning with France in 1976. Here in the U.S. it starts on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November (it was extended in 2005). Only Arizona and Hawaii don’t participate in the clock moving ritual.
In 1973-1975 it lasted the whole year in an effort to save energy but was abandoned because some felt that the dark mornings were too dangerous for school kids who mostly walked to school back then. It was also implemented year-round for most of WWII.
The transition can be rough for the first day or two and a study has shown heart attacks, accidents, and cluster headaches rise on the Monday after (March 11 this year). Some of this could be caused by an alarm clock itself, although I couldn’t find the original reference for this. Other studies say that car accidents decrease during this time and that the health effects only bother a few people who got too little sleep. In the U.S., the DST corresponds to fewer deaths per month than Standard Time.
I try to prep for the DST holiday by getting up a little earlier each day until it arrives. The birds help me, singing at the ever earlier sunrises each day. Male songbirds such as cardinals and robins begin singing before dawn in the spring as they stake out territory and look for a mate. They’ll start as early as 4 am which would be 3 am without daylight savings time. Do we really want that?
One time, I didn’t notice the time change at all because I’d had too much Australian wine at a party the night before and felt horrible the whole next day. I don’t recommend. David Preau, author of Seize the Daylight, notes that the health drawbacks of springing ahead only last a few days. Your body doesn’t like to live by a clock and resets itself according to daylight hours. And let’s be honest, people fly and drive through time zones regularly..
Many people consider DST to be the beginning of spring. It’s also a time to check your smoke alarm batteries. I’m ready to celebrate the arrival of late sunsets. One week to go! Are you with me?