This Sunday begins the season of Daylight Wasting Time which wastes daylight for most Americans. The median American gets out of bed a little after 6:30AM and goes to bed around 11PM according to Jawbone’s sleep sensors and a Edison Research poll. American women get up closer to 7AM according to University of Michigan research.
Daylight Saving Time extends daylight into the evening hours when nearly EVERYONE is awake and more people have time to be outside because it is after work hours. Daylight Wasting Time cuts the useful evening hours of daylight and adds daylight in the early morning hours when the vast majority of Americans are still either asleep or inside their homes getting ready for the day with all their lights on regardless of how much sunlight is outside. Daylight Wasting Time shifts more sunlight to 6AM, but only about 29% of Americans are up by 6 AM.
This is a wasteful trade-off. We should stick with Daylight Saving Time all year round.
Daylight Saving Time was a great idea because it helped everyone coordinate their schedules to waste less time sleeping during the daylight. It would have been impossible to order everyone to get up an hour earlier to use daylight more efficiently, so the government moved the clock forward which caused the same effect. That was a tricky feat of social engineering. This map of Jawbone data shows that arbitrary time systems have a big impact on sleep patterns.
If you happen to live on the left side of a time-zone border you tend to go to bed about an half hour earlier than people who happen to live a few miles away just across the dividing line on the right side. Just be shifting the official clock time, entire populations dramatically change their sleeping behavior.
During Daylight Wasting Time, the middle of the darkness is midnight and the middle of the light of day is noon. Daylight Saving Time was adopted to recognize the reality that noon is FAR from the middle of the time when most people are awake, and midnight is FAR from the middle of our sleep. We got more usable daylight by shifting clock one hour later so that the middle of the daylight is closer to the middle of our waking day and the clock hour of 12:00 midnight is one hour closer to the middle of our sleep. That saves about an hour of daylight each day. Because humans are awake more hours every day than there is sunlight, the best way to maximize our use of the sunlight is to be awake during both sunrises and sunsets, and although nearly everyone stays awake until after sunset, many people sleep through most of our sunrises and waste daylight. That is the problem that Daylight Saving Time was invented to deal with.
That invention was a great idea, but unfortunately, the inventors thought the benefits should be temporary every year and set up a annual ritual of switching back to Daylight Wasting Time every fall which always takes us back to the problem that Daylight Saving Time was invented to fix. Those time changes also add a host of additional costs caused by the transitioning back and forth. Joseph Stromberg wrote an excellent survey of the harms of switching time twice a year:
- It was supposed to save energy. It failed.
- It increases traffic deaths.
- Contrary to the myth that it was invented to help farmers, it hurts them, particularly the dairy industry.
- Corporations lobbied to lengthen the months of Daylight Saving Time in 1986 because Daylight Wasting Time hurts sales of everything from barbecue grills to baseball tickets and golf balls. The candy lobby succeeded in changing federal law again in 2007 to sell more candy by delaying the return of Daylight Wasting Time until after Halloween so trick-or-treating would have more time and they could sell more candy. I say why not delay it until after the Christmas retail season! Then we’d only have to deal with a bit over 2 months of wasted daylight every year.
- Daylight Wasting Time increases depression due to less available light for outdoor activities.
- It reduces exercise.
- It reduces worker productivity.
- It even increases heart attacks!
Some people argue that we need to switch to Daylight Wasting Time so that it isn’t dark when kids go to school in the morning to keep them safe. This is an expensive way to keep school kids safe. It would be simpler and better for kids if we just delayed the start of school because most teenagers are not morning people and perform better if they aren’t forced to wake up so early.
The New York Times hosted an online debate about whether or not to abolish that annual switch to Daylight Wasting Time and so they rounded up a bunch of researchers who have examined its costs and benefits. It wasn’t much of a “debate” because all the researchers wanted to abolish it. The only voice the New York Times found to argue in favor of the annual switch was a novelist who thinks it is neat because it forces us to “change our perspective” twice a year. Well, yes, an increase in heart attacks and traffic accidents certainly does force us to change our perspective, but there are better ways.
Unfortunately, most of the voices in favor of ending the switch want to abolish Daylight Saving Time rather than keeping it permanently. For example, Andy Woodruff argues that we should permanently keep our clocks fixed in Daylight Wasting Time because he prioritizes having sunrises before 7:00 AM as he shows in his preferred heat map (shown below), but you can pick your own preferences and see how it would look in his interactive graphic at the above link.
I agree that abolishing Daylight Saving Time is better than switching back and forth, but better yet would be to abolish Daylight Wasting Time and keep Daylight Saving Time instead.
One problem with Woodruff’s scheme is that sunrise isn’t the same thing as first light. If we switch the criteria to first light at 7:00 AM, then always observing Daylight Saving Time is far superior to always observing Daylight Wasting Time in Woodruff’s scheme. Unfortunately, morning people like Woodruff have traditionally dominated American culture and we wake up earlier in the morning than just about any other rich nation.
The above graph just shows the earliest risers, but there are many more nations that get up even later and women in Spain have the latest schedule, going to bed at midnight and waiting until after 8AM to get up.
Morning people discriminate against night owls in America. This injustice is ultimately why we continue to observe Daylight Wasting Time. The minority of Americans who are early to bed and early to rise have traditionally dominated over the majority of Americans who get up later. Those early risers like to have the additional daylight all to themselves before the rest of us get up, and that is the real reason why we have daylight wasting time despite the social cost.
This is not inevitable. America has changed our system numerous times, most recently in 2007 when it was extended by a month. That change cost the airlines $147 million to coordinate their schedules with the rest of the world because most countries don’t have Daylight Wasting Time and it takes a lot of work to change schedules which have to be coordinated with everyone else.
This is an ongoing problem because the countries that use some kind of Daylight Wasting system don’t change their clocks on the same schedule and all those international time changes always cost money and errors every year. Below is the Wikipedia map of the countries that do not have any kind of Daylight Wasting Time system marked in either dark or light gray. They are much more civilized.
Daylight Wasting Time is uniquely prevalent in Western Europe and its cultural offshoots in North America and that’s it. But the globe should be getting even more civilized because 80% of EU citizens want to scrap it according to a recent poll and so the EU is drafting legislation to abolish it. There is also movement in the US. In 2018, a California ballot initiative to abolish Daylight Wasting Time passed with an overwhelming 60% despite having zero dollars spent on the initiative (a very rare event), but the change still requires 2/3 approval of both houses of the state legislature. That is a very high bar to pass even though it is a very popular idea.
The most harmful part of our daylight wasting system is the ridiculous ritual of changing our clocks twice a year. That switch annually kills people and measurably reduces productivity. The morning people would prefer to keep Daylight Wasting Time year round so that they can have more daylight at their favorite time of the day — in the quiet of early morning before everyone else is out and about. Fine. If we can’t save daylight all year round, then I’d settle for having Daylight Wasting Time year-round, but it would be best to abolish it and keep Daylight Saving Time.
Note this question that Brian Resnick asked:
Isn’t it “daylight savings time” not “daylight saving time”?
No, it’s definitely called “daylight saving time.” Not plural. Be sure to point out this common mistake to friends and acquaintances. You’ll be really popular.