It is that time of year again — for turning the clocks forward, and grumbling about it.
This year, though, could be different. Years of grumbling over losing an hour’s sleep by turning the clocks forward in the spring appears to finally be making a difference, after it has been given the imprimatur of science in a spate of recent reports on the social and medical impact of daylight saving time (DST).
A 2010–2013 study conducted in Michigan hospitals found a 25-percent increase in heart attacks on the Monday after daylight saving time commenced. The theory is that even such relatively small disruptions in a patient’s lifestyle can have cardiac consequences.
While a single study based in one state isn’t sufficient reason to draw any conclusions — especially when those conclusions seem quite bizarre — there seems to be some evidence supporting the notion that losing an hour of sleep is bad for one’s general health.
The clock-induced alterations in sleep patterns may also have an unanticipated effect on the criminal justice system. When clocks are turned back in the fall, night comes earlier, and street crime goes up. And according to a December 2016 article in a psychology journal, federal judges were meting out sentences on average 5 percent longer the day after daylight saving time began than those a week before or after.
Animals are also grumbling. Traffic accidents involving wildlife have been seen to increase when DST ends, as it coincides with the peak migration time for deer and elk. Based on the data, researchers in Australia predict that making daylight saving there year-round would bring down the roadkill of koalas by eight per cent.
The economic rationale has also come into question. DST was adopted during World War II as an energy-saving measure. It was thought that artificially extending daylight hours would lead people to have lights on inside their homes for significantly fewer hours in the evening. However, subsequent studies do not generally bear out that assumption.
More and more people are trying to do something about DST.
Currently, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine are entertaining proposals to secede from what some see as the tyranny of time change. The most obvious and immediate negative consequence would be to throw them out of whack with New York — and the rest of the country.
The most ardent proponents are unfazed. “We are a distinct region of the country,” said Tom Emswiler, a health-care administrator in Boston. “If New York wants to join us on permanent Atlantic Time: Come in, the water’s fine.”
The nice thing about secession from DST is that, unlike the secession that precipitated the Civil War, time zone insurrection is legal. That is, as long as you play by the rules.
The Uniform Time Act prohibits individual states from starting or stopping daylight saving on any dates other than the ones we now have. But it does allow a state to abolish DST within its borders entirely. Arizona and Hawaii never bought into the DST scheme to begin with. At the end of the day, so to speak, daylight savings changes are not possible without either formal approval by the federal Department of Transportation, or an act of Congress.
Meanwhile, as widespread as the grumbling is, the opponents of the status quo are probably still outnumbered by the proponents, such as the governors of the New England states, and the editorial board of the Bangor Daily News, which argues that unilateral time change would isolate the state and damage the economy.
Although uniform clock-winding might seem like a federal plot to make you miserable, it isn’t. On the contrary, it’s for your own good — for it prevents a return to the chaotic situation of the nineteenth century when any city was free to set its own local time. In 1866, Illinois alone had more than two dozen separate local times. Congress stepped in 1883 to enact as law the nation’s four time zones that railroad companies had established for the sake of comprehensible scheduling.
Some of the less foreseen consequences cited include the effect on schoolchildren, who could be forced to board buses in the dark on winter mornings. Differing time zones on the eastern seaboard would leave passengers confused about Amtrak train departures and arrivals between, say, New York and Boston.
So, before anybody chooses to opt out of the peculiar institution of daylight saving, annoying as it may be, it would be prudent to give the matter more thought.