This weekend, approximately 70 countries will observe a most dreaded holiday: the start of Daylight Saving Time (DST), during we they'll all set their clocks an hour a head and lose sixty minutes of precious sleep. But that’s not the only unfortunate consequence. Some studies suggest that there are more car crashes and heart attacks in the days following DST, a result of unwelcome changes in sleep-wake cycles.
The time change has been in place for nearly 100 years, yet some lawmakers and critics are protesting for it to finally be abolished. It begs the question, then, why was it implemented in the first place?
The Origin of "Daylight Saving Time."
In addition to lightning rods and bifocal glasses, Benjamin Franklin is often credited for inventing DST, but this isn’t exactly true — he only proposed a change in sleep schedules, not a change in time. The confusion stems from a satirical article that Franklin wrote in 1784. In the piece, he theorized that Parisians could save $200 million on candle money if they woke up at sunrise and fell asleep at dusk. Although DST wouldn’t become mainstream until the 20th century, Franklin’s comments showed an early awareness of how people could be more productive by utilizing the daylight hours.
Okay, if not Ben Franklin, then who really started it?
More than 100 years after Franklin's suggestion to the French, William Willett, a builder from London, sent a pamphlet to members of Parliament suggesting that England move the clocks forward 20 minutes every Sunday in April, and move the clocks back 20 minutes every Sunday in September. The reshuffling would, essentially, swap sunlight in the morning for sunlight in the evening.
It was a radical idea, and one that wasn’t able to successfully become law (farmers, especially, were against it). But Willett’s reasoning made sense: the time change would allow people to get more work done while the sun was still up. This way, they could actually utilize the sunlight, rather than sleep it away.
Unfortunately Willett died in 1915 and never got to see anything come out of his idea. A year after his passing, however, Germany became the first country to adopt DST as a way to save energy during World War I. Other countries, such as France, Italy and the United Kingdom, soon followed.
When did Daylight Savings start in the U.S.?
The United States got it in 1918, but then got rid of it in 1919 due to unpopularity (though some cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Chicago held onto it independently). President Franklin Roosevelt brought it back from 1942 through 1945 (then, it was known as “War Time”) and in the years that followed, states and municipalities were free to choose whether they wanted it or not. Naturally, this led to much confusion and inconsistency throughout the country.
The majority of the country finally adopted it in the 1970s as a result of the decade’s energy crisis; the idea was that Americans could save money on energy by having more sunlight throughout the day.
Got it. So is that issue still relevant today?
Nope, the critics say.
“Now, with modern heating and cooling systems, research shows there’s little, if any, gain in energy savings,” Elizabeth Hagedorn wrote in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for the article 'Is it time to put an end to Daylight Saving Time?'
DST’s effect on sleep health is also starting to become more understood and taken seriously. A 2008 study even looked at Australian suicide data over the course of 30 years, and found that male suicide rates increased in the weeks following the commencement of DST. Messing with sleep cycles, perhaps, could be more dangerous than any benefits DST might have once offered. In the next few years, it's plausible that the entire system is done away with for good.