Copyright © 2020 Don H. Meredith, All Rights Reserved
As I write this, it’s the day before most of us move our clocks ahead one hour to comply with so-called Daylight Saving Time. Of course, we’re not really saving any daylight. What we gain in daylight at the end of the day we lose at the beginning, and if you’re a morning person like me, you will see more darkness in the morning. That’s good for my star gazing activities but not much else.
I remember as a young person looking forward to DST because it signalled for me that winter was coming to an end and summer vacation wasn’t far off. But that was back in the day when the change was made shortly after the spring equinox (e.g., 1st Sunday in April) and daylight was already longer than night. DST also ended shortly after the fall equinox (e.g., 1st Sunday in October) when the days were already shorter than the nights. Thus, DST lasted about 6 months. Over the years, however, governments have slowly whittled away at Standard Time, increasing the length of DST, saying it saved energy. However, studies have shown that whatever energy was saved by not turning on lights, etc. was more than made up for by the energy used to take advantage of the increased evening daylight. So, now the excuse is that DST is good for business.
As a result, we now have Standard Time only slightly longer than 4 months of the year (1st Sunday in November to 2nd Sunday in March). So, the clock change in the fall is followed pretty quickly by the clock change in late winter. That issue seems to be frustrating many people and they are asking why we’re making these changes in the first place? It’s a good question. It’s been shown that the spring switch to DST, when an hour of sleep is lost, results in an increase in traffic fatalities the following day—most likely related to sleep deprivation.
The world-wide standard of a day being broken up into 24 hours and an hour being divided by 60 minutes, etc. was first devised by the ancient Babylonians who used 60 as a base for their number system. This system has stuck for time keeping to the present day (the same Babylonian base-60 system is used on the compass).
Before the invention of clocks and watches, time was marked by the use of sundials, where noon was determined when the sun was at its zenith and the shadow on the sundial was minimal. When clocks came along, they were set by looking at the sundial. As villages and towns grew, many placed large clocks outside on prominent buildings, such as the town office, so people could see the time and easily calibrate their own clocks and watches. But the sundial was still used to calibrate the town clock.
This system worked well for town residents and people who lived near the towns. In those days, most people didn’t travel much from their homes and farms, except to buy supplies or for social interactions. Some would make trips to other towns and perhaps further away but usually not very far. Those that did make extended trips found their watches (if they owned them) were slightly off from the time shown on the next town’s clock because noon arrived there at a slightly different time, depending on whether travelling west or east.
Then along came the railroads and their schedules. People needed to know when a train was going to arrive and leave, but if each town had its own version of time, schedules were impossible. Thus, Standard Time was created where 24 time zones were established around the globe and all communities within each zone committed to the same time. No longer were communities directly connected to Solar Time, or noon occurring when the sun was directly overhead. Indeed, as a result of political decisions, many of the time zones are skewed out of line with solar noon, increasing the disconnect with Solar Time.
Daylight Saving Time
Germany was the first to create DST, during World War I as a way to conserve the fuel needed to produce electrical power for their arms factories. Other countries soon followed. After the war countries attempted to continue the practice but met opposition in many jurisdictions mainly because people got up and went to bed much earlier than they do today. After World War II, advancements in technology—such as television—caused people to stay up later, and they were more willing to make the change. Much of the world came on board by the 1970s and ‘80s. Then the incremental increases in DST over the years whittled away at Standard Time and opposition to time changes has risen again. Only this time, most people want to keep DST, even in the winter when here in Canada the days are short indeed and DST will mean the sun does not come up until very late on a mid-winter morning.
The sun rising late in the morning causes an issue with our biological clocks, the clocks in our bodies that regulate various physiological processes, including hormones that control our moods. Those clocks operate on a daily or circadian rhythm. Not unlike mechanical clocks, biological clocks tend to drift if they are not regularly recalibrated. Exposure to natural daylight provides that calibration and ensures the clock delivers the services the body requires at the right time. Less light in the morning and more light in the evening can challenge our biological clocks as they try to align Solar Time with DST. Sleep deprivation, anxiety and various mood swings can be the result in the short term, and increased rates of diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart attacks in the long term.
Changing back and forth each year from Standard to Daylight Saving Time hardly seems a worthwhile practice given the negative evidence that has accumulated over the years. And neither does changing to permanent DST. I for one would be in favor of returning to year-around Standard Time, where noon is at least close to when the sun is at its zenith and the amount of morning daylight is near equal to that in the afternoon. I know I’m in the minority, as poll after poll indicates the majority of people would prefer permanent DST (in a recent poll, the Alberta Government didn’t even offer Standard Time as an option). But perhaps we shouldn’t be moving daylight around at all and instead should be giving our bodies a chance to reconnect with the natural rhythms that used to govern us all.
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