Monday, November 8, 2010

Daylight Savings?

By Ed Latham

My natural biorhythm has been complaining much in the last few days as I am still adjusting to our seasonal changing of the clocks. This disruption has forced me to research the why of these time changes in the spring and fall.

I found the following map showing who is still changing these clocks(Blue), who has stopped (Orange) and who never changed them in the first place (Red). One might conclude that the red countries just never got the memo in the first place or have so much sun around the equator they did not see what all the fuss was about. Digging further, I found that many of the reasons for DST (Daylight Savings Time) are interesting when looking at this map. Here are some of the key reasons.
1. Energy Use: The thought was that if we shift the hours around, people would have more natural light and therefore use less artificial, electricity consuming light. As Ben Franklin pointed out, this is a fallacy as the usage of lights in the morning increase to render any benefits from this afternoon shift to be minimal. Given the Blue countries above typically have access and knowledge of energy efficient lighting, any support of energy savings rational for DST today has to be based on an unwillingness or inability to adopt the newer more efficient technologies for lighting.
2. Retail: Originally, more daylight hours after work translated into more people shopping at local stores. With the Internet and our instant access to most any resource (especially in the blue countries in the map), the rational for shifting times around is no longer applicable. In fact, as many are dealing more and more on a global scale, these changes in time often cost more time and money to restructure business connections.
3. Safety: The thought was that more light on the evening commute would equal less fatal accidents. Although the data has shown that less pedestrians get hit with this shift, there has been no solid evidence that when one factors in the morning fatalities from people having disrupted sleep patterns that there is any significant drop in the number of fatalities. Interestingly, the blue countries tend to be the only ones that have tons of cars on the road in the first place. Seems like getting rid of some of the cars might have more of a safety effect than messing with time :)
4. Health: This reason sounds good at first. More daylight in the afternoon equals more physical exercise. Data suggests the disruption in our natural circadian rhythm for up to a month after each shift causes many health detriments. Factoring in the increased suicide rates, especially after the spring switch and one has to question this at a purely data level. Again looking at the health of those in the blue countries, I am seeing the most wealthy of the world. For the most part the blue countries have many more comforts in their lives and through no coincidence have higher rates of obesity and inactivity. Although they can afford nicer exercise equipment and gym memberships, the lack of need of physical exercise is more of a health hazard than the lack of sun in the afternoon. Maybe we all need to have to carry our drinking water home every afternoon and this health issue would be fixed rather than messing with time.

One more observation. The orange countries are those that had DST and then realized the futility of it. In fact, based on population, one could argue that only the richest 2 or 3 percent of the world still stick to this silly tradition. Everyone else must realize that nature has a flow of light and dark periods and they somehow manage to adjust their lives appropriately rather than artificially changing the name of the hour to feel better.

Do you see any other observations from this interesting map? Any thoughts on the whole DST thing as it applies to learning? After all, most adolescents are not even functional mentally until at least 2-3 hours after sunrise, so our students are still sleeping till almost halfway through our school days.

Well, looking at my clock it is either time to get to work or I am already late, or is it early? I think I need to go for a nature walk outside first to find out.



Do I have to say something about this!
First of all, I don't know what data show. When they compare the rate of suicide before and after the DST switch in the spring, the data don't seem to come from comparable observations - there may be other factors contributing to this.
Getting older, I notice that the shift affects me more than before, and I start to not like it as much. I also agree that the spring switch is more difficult than the fall switch, however, I am of a strong opinion that - especially in Maine - the spring time is better. Primarily because Maine (eastern Maine even more so) is not in its own time zone. It shares the time zone with neighboring states, while in fact, it should be an hour ahead. You can't quite see it from this map, but looking at the map of US states makes it very plain.
If you rely on data telling you that adolescents are not awake for 2-3 hours after the sunrise, it is best to have students learning from February through November, adding an earlier class in May through August, but we won't go for it, will we?
Making inferences from the map is certainly a great exercise. Indeed, the countries most affected by DST are the ones further from the equator, which in itself is a great discussion.
If we were really after saving electricity, sports events wouldn't be scheduled consistently after dark, with the whole stadium ablaze. We would put on an extra sweater and thick socks, and we would unplug appliances that drain electricity while in stand-by mode.
And true there are people who are not affected as much and others who are.
Another thing to look at is who is really mostly affected by the change? Of course, all schools (children and teachers), but not as much people who are unemployed or working from home. People whose shifts are constantly changing, may not notice the change as much or on the contrary may be affected even more - say your shift start at 5, and now it's technically 4.
I think that gaining an hour of sleep is a myth (although the Apple iPhone 4 glitch made it more a reality than anything else!), but losing an hour of sleep is more tangible.

audrey lyle said...

Getting rid of daylight savings time looks good. Keeping it all year long, however, was tried (was it about 35 years ago? ) and dropped when children in rural areas were being hit by cars while waiting for school buses in the pitch dark. Let's have standard time all year.

Anonymous said...

No, No, No, No!

DSL should be year round. I suffer from SAD and the standard time is absolute hell. Expect a dramatic rise in suicides from people whose only hope during the winter is when DSL will roll around again.

It seems that the primary reason people don't like DSL is that they lose one measly hour. Not a problem if we just adopt it year round.

It confounds me that anyone likes it to get dark before they leave work.