Saturday, November 2, 2013

Springing Ahead or Falling Back?

[Originally published March 10, 2013)

           Are you one of those people whose life is completely discombobulated because of the beginning or ending of daylight saving time? One hour either way doesn’t seem like much but I have lots of friends who are in a daze and off-kilter for weeks after this one hour either magically appears or is illogically stolen away.

          Daylight saving time (DST) decreases the amount of daylight in the morning hours so that more daylight is available during the evening. It was first proposed by entomologist George Vernon Hudson, whose shift-work job gave him leisure time to collect insects and led him to value after-hours daylight. He presented a paper in 1895 where he cited economizing on candles by rising earlier to use morning sunlight and by using less heating coal as additional reasons for the one-hour change in time.

          Winston Churchill took the DST ball and ran with it in England saying it enlarged "the opportunities for the pursuit of health and happiness among the millions of people who live in this country.”  People who worked in agriculture and those in the evening entertainment business dubbed it "Daylight Slaving Time.” The US adopted DST in the early 20th century in order to conserve coal during wartime along with Britain and other of Germany’s allies in WWI.

          You might be surprised to know that there is no federal mandate that US states observe daylight savings time. The only DST law that does exist is one that stipulates that states or areas that do observe it do so at the same time - from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November. This is a change from what it used to be prior to 2007 when it was the first Sunday in April and the last Sunday in October.

          Today DST continues to be controversial. It certainly doesn’t benefit farmers and others who rise before dawn and may have to operate in the dark a while longer before daybreak. Its benefits include energy savings while decreasing the number of traffic accidents and incidents of crime.

          One of the minor kinks in DST is that not everyone observes it uniformly. Residents of Arizona and Hawaii, along with the US territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, do nothing for daylight saving time. Their lack of participation has been manageable over the years.

          Like many, in terms of sleep, I transition easier with the fall hour change when we get some additional snooze time. But then overnight, so to speak, it’s dark even before the evening commute. In that sense, the spring change, while taking away one of life’s most precious commodities, time, we are able to frolic or laze in longer warm afternoons.

          To me, there is also a more subtle change that seems to accompany DST and that is a feeling in the air. It doesn’t change exactly on the day of hour giving or taking away but sometime within that week. In the spring, it feels just a tad warmer in the morning when I deliver cat poop to the garbage can and I start noticing all the tiny blossoms beginning to bud. In the fall, there is a momentary crispness in the air that makes me think about hunting down the stored sweaters in preparation for cooler mornings ahead.

          Daylight saving time signifies change, a change I’m willing to embrace. It signals holidays approaching or a feeling of warmth penetrating completely into my bones. It’s a life cycle that brings change but remains unchanged from year to year.

          Our one hour come or one hour gone really is little compared to the early Romans whose daily clocks were tied to the rotation of the sun and how that rotation changed during the year…..there were more minutes in some days than others and they varied from month to month.  I guess we should be glad it’s only two hours during the entire year that we’re haggling about. Easy for me to say since I’m not one of those bothered by the DST change.

          Does DST throw you and/or your sleep patterns all out of whack? Are you cranky or spaced out in the fall or spring because of DST? Whatever your answer, DST begins next Sunday. Don’t forget to spring forward an hour!

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