The hazards of tinkering with time | Bleader

The hazards of tinkering with time

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  • Krystn Palmer Photography
Wish there were more hours in your day? Your wish will be granted Sunday, when the end of daylight saving time commands us to turn the clock back at 2 AM, blessing us with our annual 25-hour day.

An extra hour—to sleep, or party, or just hang out—that's a pretty good deal. But if you work the graveyard shift, your midnight-to-8 AM workday will last nine hours. Chicago police officers will actually benefit: third-shifters get paid for the extra hour, at overtime rate. Officers who work on spring-forward night in March are paid for eight hours though they only work seven. Which is generous, but also costly.

Daylight saving time has been a touchy issue since the practice began. Everything's debatable about it, down to whether you call it daylight "saving" or "savings." DST was formally instituted in the U.S. in 1918, and was so unpopular the nation repealed it the following year. It remained a local option until President Lyndon Johnson reinstituted it in 1966 under the Uniform Time Act. Even after that, states could opt out. Now every state observes DST except Arizona and Hawaii.

I wish we could fiddle with the thermometer instead of the clock. Under a Winter Relief Mediation Regime—WRMR—we'd turn the outdoor temperature up 10 degrees from now through March.

Social scientists laboring to shed light on daylight saving time have so far shown that it clearly saves energy, or wastes it, and reduces traffic fatalities, or increases them.

Could daylight saving time be making us stupid? A study published in February in the Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics compared SAT scores of Indiana public high school students in DST areas with those in standard time areas for the ten years before the state opted into daylight saving time in 2005. (Before 2005, Indiana's time regimen varied by region.) The authors controlled for socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity. The students in regions with daylight saving scored 16 points lower on average than the students in the standard time areas. The authors speculated that the cognitive loss was due to the disruption in circadian rhythm caused by the time changes.

Perhaps Mayor Emanuel should quit pressing for a longer school day, and push instead for a return to year-round standard time.

Studies that have focused on circadian rhythm have generally found the adjustment in autumn easier than the one in spring. A 2007 report in Current Biology concluded that "larks" (early risers) lose less sleep in the days after time shifts than "owls"—but that the sleep patterns of both larks and owls are disrupted, and that the disruption lasts longer after we spring forward.

So enjoy the gift hour on Sunday. But be careful out there: this clock-switching business can be dangerous.

On April 24, 1932, the Tribune ran a story generally lauding DST, which had resumed that morning. Above the article, though, was a one-paragaph news blurb about 52-year-old Mrs. Anna Larson of 949 N. Parkside Ave. "Daylight Time Fatal" read the headline. "Preparing to retire, Mrs. Larson decided to move the wall clock's hands ahead one hour," the Trib reported. "She mounted a small ladder. As she advanced the clock's hands she slipped and fell heavily to the floor. Her neck was broken, causing immediate death." She'd fallen back trying to spring forward.

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