Leonie Ernst

As a real morning person, getting up early is usually not a problem at all. When my alarm clock rings, I need about half an hour to take a shower, get dressed, and have breakfast. I love to cycle to work or university when Amsterdam is awaking, and the sun has just risen. The easy feeling of the morning provides me with some good energy for the rest of the day. It was only this week that I found myself in trouble during my favourite moment of the day. I could not get out of bed as easily as usual, and my days actually started pretty late and a bit more stressfully. At first I thought this was due to the exams, and that my resistance to get up was a sort of manner to avoid the fact that I really had to study hard. Although that might be part of the reason, it was not the main cause of my behaviour. While cycling to work this morning, I realized that it was still dark outside when I had to leave the house, and that it was exactly this slight difference that changed my mood completely. There are many people with me that face similar difficulties when the Daylight Saving Time (DST), or – as we call it in Dutch – summertime is set. The 26th of March the clock was forwarded an hour, something that happens every spring. This practice of adjusting time was introduced in 1916 by the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, and has been implemented in many countries ever since. The motivation behind the DST was to reduce electricity and heating costs that were made during the dark hours in the evening, and to stimulate economic activity in the late afternoon. However, opponents of summertime argue that this ‘moving of time’ leads to physical and mental problems and is not saving us any money at all. What exactly is this DST, and why was it implemented? Should we keep adjusting time, or does it not make sense anymore?

Although Daylight Saving Time was only countrywide introduced on April 30, 1916, one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, already wrote an essay on the matter in 1784. In this paper, ‘An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light’, Franklin proposed to introduce the shift of an hour, so that the people in Paris could make an optimal use of the natural light instead of getting out of bed earlier. Franklin jokingly said that it would save the Parisians a lot of candles and therefore costs. Franklin’s proposal was not very serious, but his idea was heard, and he inspired many people to actually implement DST. Hence, around 70 countries adjust their time schedule every March/April, and set back the time in November. After the oil crisis in 1973, a lot of European countries had to save money and energy, and the extra hour of light during the summer was a proper way to do so. Daylight Saving Time is thus the adjusting of time in order to create a better fit between our daily schedule and the daylight. Since our daily schedules are based on particular time slots – school starts at 8.30AM, working is from 9AM to 5PM, etc. – this is a logical way to ensure this better fit. So what we actually do while using DST is adjusting our time schedule instead of our actual daily schedule. That’s pretty strange, right?

Summertime effects

The motivation behind the time policy is of course the already named saving of costs and stimulation of economic activity. One of the first questions that comes to mind is whether we are really saving energy and light costs, since people now wake up in the dark and put on their lights in the morning instead of during the evening. However, the stimulation of economic activity does seem to make sense. Especially in the hospitality industry, the long summer nights increase revenues, although for agriculture nothing changes in terms of revenues, because nature does obviously not respond to our artificial time schedule. Most people simply enjoy the length of summer nights, when the sun sets after 10PM, and love to go out for dinner or to have a drink, but the actual increase in economic activity turns out to be lower than expected. Research by the JPMorgan Chase Institute shows that there is indeed a slight increase in spending after the beginning of DST in spring, but that the drop in spending at the end of DST in November is significantly larger. So the DST does not stimulate economic activity as much as it discourages people to spend when the time is set back in November.

Furthermore, David T. Wagner  and Christopher M. Barnes argue that DST has some other drawbacks, and that it even hurts the economy. Wagner and Barnes state that our body clock does not adjust to the rescheduling of time and that this leads to inefficiency at office. They found that “workers tend to “cyberloaf” – that is, they use their computers and internet access to engage in activities that are not related to work – at a substantially higher rate on the Monday following the shift to daylight saving time than on other Mondays.”  They estimate that this inefficiency has a cost of $434 million a year (!). So while we are maybe saving costs on energy and lighting, we are making unnecessary costs due to the inability of our body clock to rearrange that easily.

Apart from the economic effects of the time shift, our mental health is influenced by the time shift as well. The DST is a shift of an hour, so how big can effects on our mental health be? Well, at the end of DST, the Winter Blues is a widespread phenomenon that is caused by the sudden change in light hours every day. And during the DST, as the study “Transition to daylight saving time reduces sleep duration plus sleep efficiency of the deprived sleep” shows, people tend to miss an hour of sleep every night, which in turn leads to inefficiency, exhaustion, and even a spike in heart attacks.

Taken all of this into consideration, I really wonder why we are still playing with time every year. It has been shown that ‘summertime’ has some great disadvantages that overshadow the advantages. It costs us more than it saves us, so maybe we should stick to either ‘summer’-  or ‘wintertime’. Maybe we’ll have to try it out for one year, to see if people are indeed more productive without the sudden time shift. But for the time being, I think I just have to get used to the extra dark hour in the morning, or have to find a job where I do not have to begin that early: that will solve the problem either way.