Get government out of the time-change business

On these cold, dark winter mornings, do you long for daylight to arrive? Think what it would be like if daylight saving time (DST) were in effect all year long. The sun wouldn’t be up until nine a.m. Our children would be heading to school in darkness. And we’d be commuting in the dark, navigating the coldest days of winter without the warmth of sunlight.

Every November, when we set our clocks back, surveys abound as to whether people prefer the semi-annual time change or year-round DST. The third choice is seldom offered in surveys: Stay on standard time all year. Most Americans are weary of the time changes, but there is no consensus on whether standard time or daylight time is the better solution. So  we continue the twice-a-year routine. I propose returning to standard time and doing away with the wasteful and disruptive process of changing our clocks.

Numerous studies have been conducted on health issues, crime, traffic accidents, energy consumption, economics, etc., as to whether standard or daylight time is more beneficial. Without definitive results, people promote the studies that match their personal preferences. What is known is the disruption we experience twice a year as we adjust to the time change. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, sunlight is the most powerful synchronizer of our circadian rhythms—the internally generated clocks our bodies follow. Exposure to light in the morning makes us feel more alert and helps us maintain a strong circadian rhythm. The setting sun tells the body to release melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Exposure to more light closer to bedtime makes it harder to fall asleep. We function best when our sleep-wake cycle follows the sun.

Many people don’t know that standard time relates to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which has been the world’s standardized time system since the 1800s. The earth’s circumference is measured with 360 degrees of longitude and divided into 24 fifteen-degree segments, each representing one hour of the day. The prime meridian, marked as zero degrees longitude, passes near the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. Anywhere in the world, the sun shines directly overhead at noon in the center of each time zone. DST throws both the world’s time system (external clock) and the body’s system (internal clock) off-kilter.

Having the sun shining until bedtime deprives us of summer evenings sitting under the stars and watching our children chase fireflies. It deprives us of the joy of waking in the morning to the warm summer sunshine. In 1974, the federal Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act enacted a two-year experiment of permanent DST. It lasted only one winter, before complaints from the public caused Congress to repeal the law in October, largely due to safety concerns about children getting to school on dark winter mornings. Outdoor workers also objected to the extra hour of working in the dark. For the past several years, Congress has again been attempting to place the nation on permanent daylight time through the Sunshine Protection Act. In 2021, the Senate passed the bill, but it failed in the House. How ridiculous to talk about “protecting” or “saving” daylight. Stealing an hour of daylight from the morning is not protecting or saving anything.

South Dakota’s legislature has also attempted and failed to pass such a law. I asked a state legislator to introduce a bill to keep South Dakota on standard time and was told other legislators would vote it down because the surrounding states use DST. In our great pioneer tradition of rugged individualism, can’t South Dakota be a leader instead of a follower?

I urge citizens and lawmakers to get the government out of the time-change business and allow the system to operate according to natural science. As we look forward to spring, let’s enjoy the increasing daylight hours in both morning and afternoon and stop messing with our clocks.

Published in Sioux Falls Argus Leader (Feb 18, 2024) and Clear Lake Courier (Feb 28, 2024)

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