Sunday, March 9, marks the start of daylight saving time in the U.S. It's the day we lose an hour of sleep and adjust the clocks to make sure we arrive at work the next day on time rather than an hour late. The driving force behind the time change is to take advantage of the summer's extra daylight and conserve energy. But does that really happen today? The answer isn't a clear yes or no, but there are steps you can take for your household to benefit from the change.
The notion of adjusting the clock with the time of year is not new. The ancient Romans, for example, lengthened each summertime hour to take advantage of the longer day. A daylight hour at the summer solstice was 75 minutes long, whereas at the winter solstice it was only 44 minutes long. Around the turn of the 20th century, proposals from New Zealand to Great Britain were offered up to help people take advantage of the extra daylight hours of summer. But no government enacted a change until World War I, when energy resources were restricted. Countries in Europe made the change starting in 1916, with the United States following suit in 1918. The U.S. didn't uniformly keep daylight saving time (DST) until 1966, repealing it in peacetimes and re-enacting it during World War II.
The original goal of daylight saving time was to reduce the use of artificial lights in the evening, which at the time was the primary use of electricity. Today, however, only about 8-15 percent of a household's electricity use is attributed to lighting.
Is daylight saving time still effective?
Studies of how the time change affects electricity use are often contradictory. Though people may use less electricity because they can perform tasks at home with natural light, they may use more air conditioning to keep cool while performing these tasks. DST affects other types of energy use as well. With the extra daylight hours after work, people are driving around more - using more gasoline.
Other pluses and minuses about daylight saving time have been argued and studied for decades. Traffic fatalities are down during DST because drivers can see better during the extended daylight, but they often go up after the return to standard time. The extra daytime hours are good for retailers, tourism and outdoor sports, but the time change can have a negative impact on farmers and primetime broadcast ratings. Even the time change's effect on health is disputed. Using the extra daylight for outdoor exercise is beneficial to the body, but the disruption to sleep schedules due to the clock change can often last for days.
Take advantage of the daylight
So what should you do to take advantage of the extra daylight hours without suffering the ill effects? First of all, try to go to bed a little earlier the night before so the loss of an hour on the clock doesn't make you overly tired. You might need to do this for a few nights until your body adjusts. This is especially true for children. Next, try to figure out how you can adjust your schedule to take advantage of the evening light. Can you change your morning treadmill time to an evening walk around the neighborhood?
Also, think about any automatic settings on devices you might need to change to take advantage of the natural light and save energy. If you have a timer on an inside light, reset it for an hour later. Adjust your programmable thermostat to start warming up the house later because the sun will keep it warmer longer.
Despite controversy and the lack of proof that daylight saving time actually saves energy, the twice-yearly time changes in the United States are not likely to end soon. Take advantage of the extra daylight when you can, and if nothing else, think about that extra hour of sleep you will get in the fall with the return to standard time!