Should daylight saving time (DST) be abolished?
Every spring, most North American and European countries participate in the annual ritual of switching to daylight saving time (DST), where people advance their clocks by one hour. DST generally lasts from the beginning of spring to the end of summer, with the rationale being that seasonal DST allows us to maximize our leisure time and save energy. However, opponents argue that the degree to which DST disrupts sleep and society outweighs possible benefits.
While there may be some benefits, DST is environmentally detrimental and extremely disruptive to individuals and thus, society as a whole.
One of the most common arguments made by proponents of DST is that it saves energy. This was true when DST was first conceived in 1916—light bulbs were practically the only appliance that used electricity. Since DST caused people to go to sleep an hour earlier relative to standard time, this led to significant energy savings. Today, however, many use air conditioning to cope with the extra hour of sunlight, rendering these savings obsolete. If DST does not result in net energy savings, it loses its very purpose.
DST clock shifts are highly disruptive to our economy and society; data from the US Department of Labor shows that the annual opportunity cost of changing to DST and back is approximately $1.7 billion. Moreover, every year immediately following the shift, there is a sudden peak in car accidents and strokes. While this surge is only temporary, the damage adds up when these shifts occur on an annual basis.
Furthermore, regular sleep is essential for individuals to function properly, but DST makes this exceedingly difficult. During DST, our actual sleep cycles are not in sync with our circadian rhythm, the human body clock, which is tuned to natural light patterns during regular time. And because our circadian rhythm doesn’t respond to the manmade DST, in some cases, it can take several weeks to adjust to the new time . In fact, some studies suggest that the human body is never able to adjust to the time change that accompanies DST, causing people to be chronically tired . As it is, there is little consensus on DST’s effects on the environment and society, with different studies pointing to different directions. DST is essentially a social experiment, and one that we don’t really understand. It is reckless, and downright dangerous even, to experiment on billions of individuals.
In the end, the environmental damage caused by DST, alongside the harm caused to our bodies, does not make the extra hour of sunshine worth it.
The transition between standard and DST happens in two days, but we forget that DST has a lasting impact for eight months. Most articles that attack the validity of DST claim that the time changes lead to increases in stress and anxiety. To focus on just the effects of these transitions, however, is ridiculous. To truly analyze DST, we must look past the short-term harms, and appreciate the long-term benefits.
Critics often base their disapproval around the apparent schedule disruption and health problems that arise from DST. These claims are greatly exaggerated. Realistically, the effect of time change is essentially a one hour jet-lag. Most tourists are able to recover from a much more significant transition in only a week. David Prereau, a leading authority on DST, notes how “these effects of the one hour change take place over a day” . It is unlikely that serious health issues occur due to the transition, as most complaints are of fatigue, which goes away in a couple of days. Even fatigue cannot be pinned on DST; since transitions occur at the start of spring and the beginning of winter, these health issues could very well be attributed to our bodies adjusting to the sudden change in temperature.
DST was designed to make life more enjoyable. In Canada, we typically spend our summer evenings outside socializing or playing sports. These activities, as well as increased exposure to sunlight, help people lead healthier lives. The average Canadian is a nine-to-five adult. If we simply maintained standard time throughout the year, we would have an early sunrise—essentially useless since we’re asleep—and very little time for outdoor activities. DST also helps to limit energy usage. By increasing sunlit hours, DST reduces the need for artificial lighting, and since we spend more of our time outside, overall household energy consumption is reduced.
DST was created so that people can make the most of natural light. The cost of DST lies only in the transition between standard time and DST, which has no lasting effect. DST offers a valuable trade-off: we suffer slight annoyances, but gain valuable evening daylight, which benefits many aspects of our lives.