As most people no doubt noticed given that they were robbed of an hour of sleep, Sunday marked the beginning of daylight saving time in the United States, Canada, and several other countries and territories in North America. For morning people, daylight saving is a drag, depriving them of an hour of tranquil morning light. But for others, "spring forward" brings with it the promise of long, languid afternoons and warmer weather.
Like millions of other Americans who have slogged through an uncomfortably cold winter, I'm looking forward to the change of season. But daylight saving time is an annual tradition whose time has passed. In contemporary society, it's not only unnecessary: It's also wasteful, cruel, and dangerous. And it's long past time to bid it goodbye.
Daylight saving has been an official ritual since 1918, when President Woodrow Wilson codified it into law during the waning days of World War One. Nowadays, its ostensible purpose is to save energy: One more hour of sunlight in the evening means one less hour of consumption of artificial lighting. In 2005, President George W. Bush lengthened daylight saving time by a month as part of a sweeping energy bill signed that year, citing the need to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil.
But does daylight saving time actually make much of a difference? Evidence suggests that the answer is no. After the Australian government extended Daylight Saving Time by two months in 2000 in order to accommodate the Sydney Olympic Games, a study at UC Berkeley showed that the move failed to reduce electricity demand at all. More recently, a study of homes in Indiana—a state that adopted daylight saving time only in 2006—showed that the savings from electricity use were negated, and then some, by additional use of air conditioning and heat.
The simple act of adjusting to the time change, however subtle, also has measurable consequences. Many people feel the effects of the "spring forward" for longer than a day; a study showed that Americans lose around 40 minutes of sleep on the Sunday night after the shift. This means more than just additional yawns on Monday: The resulting loss in productivity costs the economy an estimated $434 million a year.
Daylight saving time may also hurt people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, depriving them of light in the mornings. "Our circadian rhythms were set eons ago to a rhythm that didn’t include daylight savings time, so the shift tends to throw people off a bit,” Nicholas Rummo, the director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, New York, told HealthDay News. The switchover to daylight saving time is also linked to an increase in heart attacks as well as traffic accidents.
Those of us who have lived with daylight saving time our whole lives might feel disoriented without it. But the millions of Americans in Arizona, Hawaii, and territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have survived just fine without it. Not to mention the billions of people throughout Asia, Africa, and South America.
It’s said that Benjamin Franklin first proposed a version of daylight saving back in 1784 as a way to save candles. This, no disrespect to old Ben, should tell us how silly and obsolete the tradition has become. President Obama—and leaders elsewhere in the world—should do the sensible thing and scrap it.