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Why Daylight Saving Time Makes No Sense, Saves No Energy

You’ve probably never thought about it much: some time around Halloween, you set your clock back an hour one Saturday night and get an extra hour’s sleep. And then, as Easter approaches, you set it ahead an hour and lose an hour’s sleep. You might have learned “Spring forward, fall back” in order to remember what you do when. When you asked as a child why this happened, somebody probably mumbled something about it helping farmers. Or something.

If you’re a night shift worker, you’re cheering in the spring and bummed out in the fall when you’re on the job an extra hour. And still, you probably don’t really know why this is important.

Guess what? Research says it is not. It is tradition, not scientific evidence, that is the driving force behind this phenomenon. As the name indicates, “Daylight Saving Time” makes the sun rise one hour later according to the clocks, which run the schedule of our days and nights. Therefore, in most places in North America, mornings are darker and colder than they would have been, causing us to use more energy in the form of heat and light, researchers note.

“During the cooler months in the spring and fall especially, this may cause individuals to use more lighting and heating electricity regardless of behavioral/time-use adjustments. Similarly, DST will cause the late afternoons and early evenings to be warmer and brighter. This should reduce lighting and electricity use, but will likely lead to increased air conditioning use, making it hard to establish the true effect on afternoon/evening energy demand.”

In fact, some studies have shown that DST actually increases energy use, while other studies suggest that it saves very negligible energy, not worth the patterns and circadian rhythms it affects, which may even have a negative impact on health.

The truth is, we have no idea why we do this. There’s no scientific evidence to back it up — it’s just been done for hundreds of years. And that bit about farmers?

Farmers have long been labeled as big proponents of daylight saving time, or even given credit with getting the practice going. Whether this idea came from farmers’ early rising habits in order to care for cattle or some other reason, it’s a myth. Author David Prerau wrote a book about the contentious practice and says that across the world, farmers are the first people who would like to see it end.

“From the very beginning, when DST was proposed in Britain’s Parliament in 1908, until today, farmers have been the number one group against daylight saving time.”

[photo credit to National Geographic]