Home Opinion Greg Blass In this sleep-deprived nation, it’s time to let go of a now-pointless...

In this sleep-deprived nation, it’s time to let go of a now-pointless old practice

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Having just moved our clocks and timepieces forward, do we really need this clock-changing rigamarole anymore? More than 25 other countries endure the obligatory change to Daylight Saving Time each March, then moving back an hour to Standard Time every October. Here in the U.S., state after state looks to drop the routine altogether by making Daylight Saving Time permanent. How has it come to this?

A wee bit of history: Benjamin Franklin first raised the concept back in the 1700s. He argued for taking advantage of spring’s and summer’s longer daylight as a way to save on the use of candles. Surprisingly, his idea wasn’t to move clocks up an hour in the spring, but to change everyone’s sleep schedules by the firing of canons to awaken everyone earlier. Imagine that today? Anyway, the good doctor’s (honorary, that is, but deservedly) idea didn’t go far.

A hundred or so years later, a Brit by the name of William Willett urged that people should “enjoy the plentiful sunlight” by moving clocks forward 80 minutes, gradually (instead of an hour all at once) from April to October. With more of the same reaction, the British Parliament wasn’t impressed.

But when the Germans adopted the spring-ahead-fall-back an hour routine during World War I, to save fuel for the war effort, the Brits and U.S. followed suit, calling it “Daylight Saving.” All this was happily dropped at war’s end in 1919, then revived in the U.S. and elsewhere at the start of WWII. This they called “War Time” which again endured only till war’s end in 1945.

Then almost everyone was OK without this biannual changing of the clock until our U.S. Congress jumped in and in 1966 adopted the Uniform Time Act, aimed mainly at saving energy, exempting Hawaii and most of Arizona in the process. But since then, the U.S. Department of Energy studied and then concluded that Daylight Saving Time reduces energy consumption by only 0.03 percent.

Also in 2008, a report in the New England Journal of Medicine told us that, as a society, we are “chronically sleep deprived,” and changing the clocks for Daylight Saving Time is actually part of the reason. In fact, in their issue of April 4, 1996, the New England Journal of Medicine letters section mentions a sweeping analysis of 1,398,784 traffic accidents throughout Canada, from 1991 to 1992. So these researchers compared the week prior to moving the clocks in spring forward with the week following that spring change. It showed the spring shift and the “concomitant loss of one hour’s sleep” resulted in an 8 to 10 percent increase of traffic accidents. This study concluded, among other things, that small changes in the amount of sleep people get, such as the spring ahead one hour for Daylight Saving Time, has major consequences.

So why cling to this switching times every spring and fall? Why not simply stick with Daylight Saving Time year-round? That would preserve the concept behind it: that an extra hour of evening daylight after work or school is far more usable than an hour of daylight in the morning.

When we added another month to Daylight Saving Time in 1986, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, reported that this one month more of Daylight Saving Time resulted in over $1 billion in convenience store sales from ’86 to 2010, with similar jumps in sales of everything from gardening and sports equipment to home repair and attendance at sporting events, even with outdoor lights for ball parks, miniature golf and stadiums.

If this proves that an extra hour of daylight means extra time to spend money, maybe it would be helpful to study its possible effect on the rising trend of shopping on-line. We could also use better research on a permanent Daylight Saving Time’s effect on commuters’ taking their trips during mornings that are darker longer.

Another worthwhile study would be the impact on kids’ getting to school during the darker mornings that year-round Daylight Saving Time would entail, whether walking (here’s to the few kids left who walk to school) or waiting for the bus. But this they already do for most of the school year. Why do our teachers and school administrators cling to this nonsensical starting of school so absurdly early? Where are their priorities in having kids getting picked up and arriving at school in a wiped out state? They are well aware of the established science, backed by years of research, that starting school as early as we do hurts kids physically and emotionally, in all grades.

Some states have no need for further studies and would be fine with moving the clocks forward in the spring one last time, leaving it that way and be done with it. That’s exactly what just came out of Florida’s state legislature, where both houses passed a permanent Daylight Saving Time law with almost no opposition. Now they wait for their governor’s signature. Called their “Sunshine Protection Act,” still it will take an act of the U.S. Congress to make it official. With that, Florida will have added reason to call itself the “Sunshine State.” Note that their parent/teacher groups oppose it, while adhering to the same, excessively early start to each school day – bad for the kids, but convenient for them, just as up here.

For Florida, where virtually all of the job sites and offices of the working population are limited to within its borders, year-round Daylight Saving Time is a good fit. But up here in the Northeast, neighboring states should do this together, so as to avoid one time at work and another at home for those whose jobs have them crossing state lines and back each workday. To that end, the states of Maine, NH, RI and Massachusetts have formed active state commissions to bring an end to the outdated, spring-ahead-fall-backward drag. But again, Congress will have to approve any exemptions.

The sensible thing would be to set up a permanent Daylight Saving Time for all the USA (somehow, the terms “sensible” and “Congress” don’t seem to go well together). This would call for Congress to hold hearings, inject some logic and reason into the process, and amend their Uniform Time Act of 1966. The rationales no longer hold true for our unending biannual back and forth with the clocks. So let’s put a welcome end to it. The ever stronger case for setting Daylight Saving Time for the entire year has been made by now. Maybe our federal representatives will finally decide.

Greg Blass
Greg has spent his life in public service since he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager. He is a former Suffolk County Family Court judge, six-term Suffolk County legislator and commissioner of Social Services. Now retired, Greg is active in volunteer work and is a board member of several charities. He lives in Jamesport. Email Greg