On Sunday morning, I joined my faith community on Zoom, and we were chatting as we do every Sunday before the meeting for worship starts. Then, oddly, one person waved and disappeared, and more …
On Sunday morning, I joined my faith community on Zoom, and we were chatting as we do every Sunday before the meeting for worship starts. Then, oddly, one person waved and disappeared, and more followed. Why were people leaving before the meeting started? Then it hit me: the strange ritual of moving time around had happened again, literally passing me by, and I’d missed the meeting for worship. My reality had been altered and the feeling of disorientation was instant…not to mention embarrassment.
I have long considered this changing of the clocks silly, and disruptive to the complex psychological, physiological, metaphysical, and philosophical aspects of time, and I’ve been in good company with these reflections. Albert Einstein said, “Time is an illusion.” Author Mario Benedetti wrote, “Five minutes are enough to dream a whole life, that is how relative time is.” and science fiction writer Ray Cummings penned, “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.”
Cavalierly changing our timepieces messes with our internal clocks. We have animal bodies, we are creatures of the Earth and Cosmos, and no matter how much we attempt to manipulate our daily rhythms of sleep, body temperature, eating, and activity, Mother Nature will rule as the master clock in our brain synchronizes those rhythms with the rising and setting of the sun. German researcher Till Roenneberg says, “This is one of those human arrogances–that we can do whatever we want as long as we are disciplined. We forget that there is a biological clock that is as old as living organisms, a clock that cannot be fooled.” He explains that our internal circadian rhythm follows the sun and actually changes in four-minute intervals, exactly the time it takes for the sun to cross one line of longitude.
The practice of daylight saving time (DST: and yes, “saving” is singular) has been called self-imposed jet lag. Similar to crossing time zones, the body adjusts better to “gaining” time, traveling westward, or shifting the clock back in the Fall than to “losing” time traveling eastward or shifting the clock forward in the Spring. Roenneberg’s research monitored people’s sleep and activity levels for eight weeks after time changes, also considering their “chronotypes” as night owls or morning larks. Both groups’ timing for sleep and peak activity adjusted easily when daylight saving time ended in the fall but never adjusted with the change in the spring, especially true for the night owls.
Disruptive side effects include disorientation and sleep deprivation, which can in turn cause fatigue and hormonal changes. People often report feeling more anxious and irritable with increased emotional outbursts. Personally, I love having something to blame for being crabby as well as a valid excuse, certified by sleep specialists, to take a nap, but I’d still rather the government leave my body rhythms alone and allow me to get crabby or sleepy on my own recognizance.
Here’s some history and some myth-busting about how this all got started. Daylight saving plans were neither created to benefit farmers nor supported by farmers. They actually fiercely opposed DST because they still lived with the natural rhythm of the land and the animals with the sun dictating their schedules, which DST disrupted. They had to wait an extra hour for dew to evaporate to harvest hay and cows weren’t ready to be milked an hour earlier to meet shipping schedules. Cows aren’t quite as suggestible or agreeable as human beings when it comes to messing with their internal body clocks.
Benjamin Franklin has been incorrectly credited with originating the idea of moving the clocks forward. What actually happened: In spite of his adage, “Early to bed and early to rise,” he was grumpy about being awakened at 6 a.m. by the summer sun, so he published a satirical essay which suggested that people should get up earlier to save money on candles.
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, was the first location to use DST in 1908, and Germany and England followed suit in 1916. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson first signed it into law in 1918 as part of the war effort, to be repealed seven months later. Although advocates touted energy conservation as a benefit of DST during the world wars and periods of oil shortages, higher usage of both air conditioning and heating offset energy savings.
The historical timeline of DST, variously called fast time, war time, and summer time, is a hodgepodge of local practices being enacted, repealed and continually tweaked in the U.S. and around the world. Initially, states and local jurisdictions could do whatever they wanted to. In 1965, Iowa had 23 different pairs of beginning and ending. St. Paul began daylight saving two weeks before Minneapolis, perhaps determined to be first in their ongoing municipal competition. Travelers on a 35-mile bus ride from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia, passed through seven time changes. Can you imagine being a train scheduler or a broadcaster? Finally, in 1966, the Uniform Time Act was passed, standardizing DST, but states could still opt out as Hawaii, Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation), and several U.S. territories have done.
The current U.S. schedule was set by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, enacted in 2007, extending the DST period to eight months from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November. Currently DST is used in over 70 countries, affecting over a billion people. Think about that: over a billion people exhibiting irritability and emotional outbursts, all at the same time.
Proponents of DST argue that it saves energy, promotes health through outdoor leisure activity during summer evenings, reduces traffic accidents and crime, and is good for business. Supporters tend to be urban workers, retail businesses, outdoor sports enthusiasts and businesses, tourism operators, and others who benefit from increased light during the evening in summer. Opponents argue that actual energy savings are inconclusive, that DST causes sleep deprivation, mood disorders and increased health risks such as heart attacks, and that changing clocks twice a year is expensive and disruptive, canceling out any benefits. I’m solidly in the second camp and protest through my poetry.