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As I write this the second Sunday in March is fast-approaching. That's the day on which many Americans spring forward into Daylight Saving Time. It always amazes me when hundreds of millions of people simultaneously adjust their clocks to artificially optimize time as it relates to the amount of sunlight in the sky. It's an interesting concept for sure, but it's also one of those ideas that makes you feel like if YOU had been the one to propose the idea, absolutely everyone in America would have scoffed at you. You know what I mean. But there's also something slightly comforting in Daylight Saving Time. Something that reminds us that we're on our annual trip hurtling through space around the Sun at an obscene speed, just like a birthday or a holiday event reminds us. I'm on the fence when it comes to Daylight Saving Time. I could live without it just fine, but I don't mind it enough to do anything about it. I won't be starting any grassroots movements to repeal Daylight Saving Time. So, since it'll likely be around for a while let's take a closer look at the subject.
First things first. Many people in the United States say, "Daylight Savings Time" but it's actually "Daylight Saving Time" with no letter "s" at the end of the word "Saving."
It's often suggested that Benjamin Franklin first suggested the concept in an article he wrote in 1784. Many people believe he wasn't being serious - that he was joking about changing the time on a clock. It's difficult to know for sure, but my bet is that Franklin never once thought it would be practical for millions of people to change their clocks at the same time for extra sunlight in the evening. He lived before clocks changed themselves, though. If he were alive today, maybe he would, indeed, think it's a practical ritual due to automation in many of our clocks - like those on mobile phones, cable TV boxes, smart watches, and computers.
A New Zealander named George Hudson is also often credited with conceiving the idea of setting clocks ahead an hour to have more daylight in the evening. The year was 1895. The reason was that George was an entomologist who wanted to have more time to catch insects in the evening after he completed his shift working at the local post office. Could it really be that 40% of the world adheres to a DST-like scheme all because of a guy who liked to catch bugs at night?
The first place to officially implement Daylight Saving Time - called Summer Time in some countries - was the city of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada in 1908. Just a few years later in 1916, at the beginning of World War I, the entire country of Germany instituted Daylight Saving Time to help save energy and to ration coal during a time of war. (Incidentally, that means this year marks the 100th anniversary of a country using DST. That anniversary will be observed on April 30, 2016.)
In the United States, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law on March 19, 1918 a bill which declared to be "an act to save daylight and to provide standard time..." This was the first official declaration and implementation of DST in the United States. The law was repealed seven months later. Then in 1942, in the midst of WWII, a similar bill was signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but this one declared to be "an act to promote the national security and defense by establishing daylight saving time." So, the second time around it was made to sound a little less trivial. And it worked. We've been adjusting our clocks ever since. Well, most of us. There are exceptions in the United States, including the states of Arizona and Hawaii, and some overseas territories including American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands. During that time of war people used the term "war time", as in "Eastern War Time", "Central War Time", "Mountain War Time", and "Pacific War Time."
The number one argument for DST is energy savings, and those savings are relatively significant when framed properly. You see, DST results in a 0.03% drop in annual household energy consumption. This seems relatively insignificant until you realize that adds up to saving an amount of energy that can power 122,000 homes for an entire year! Not a bad result for a simple change of the clock.
Another benefit, as George Hudson considered, is the fact that DST allows people to enjoy more daylight hours after work. Of course, this is only a benefit for those who work day shifts at more northern latitudes, and for those who actually like to go outside to enjoy the outdoors instead of staying inside and playing XBox or watching Netflix or wasting time on anti-social media. (Millennials might have a completely different outlook on DST than the rest of us.) The golf course industry makes an extra $400M annually due entirely to DST.
But there are some problems associated with DST, besides being kind of a bummer for backyard astronomers. Not every country uses DST, and even the ones that do have different start and end dates. Travelers beware. A few years ago my family and I were traveling in Italy. We were staying in an apartment in Rome and we were enjoying the last night of our trip talking with the apartment owner who lived right next door. We had a taxi scheduled to pick us up at 6AM the next morning. The next morning came and we were out on the curb waiting... and waiting... and waiting some more until about 6:30AM. We were starting to get concerned that our taxi driver wasn't going to show, so we walked down the street to a little hotel to see if someone there could call us another taxi. That's when we found out it was actually 5:30AM. We were an hour early because that night Italy set their clocks back an hour to get back onto standard time. We were so lucky this unexpected time change only caused us to be early, instead of causing us to miss our flight. The learning lesson for us, of course, was to always be aware of potential time changes when traveling (and to not rely on Italian apartment owners for the inside scoop on local time changes).
Since 2007 the US stock exchanges have seen a substantial decline on the Monday after DST begins - dropping an average of 0.24 percent, or 8 times the average Monday drop after a normal weekend - equaling an average of a one-day $31B loss. Yikes. That's a lot of money. Some studies have also shown that the number of traffic accidents and the number of heart attacks increases on the Monday following the beginning of DST. Many people attribute this to a lack of sleep. Studies have also suggested that lost productivity - presumably also attributed to lack of sleep - is a problem to the tune of $434M. That seems like a lot of chaos attributed to the loss of just one single hour of sleep.
Speaking of sleep, I've got an idea on how you can use DST to help you stay on top of things related to your CPAP therapy. Six years ago I cut my finger on a sharp screw that was sticking out of the bottom of my RV. I went to the doctor to get a tetanus shot because it had been several years since my last one. I probably could have gone another year or two, but the year was 2010 and I wanted to be able to easily remember the next deadline, 2020. Then 2030. And so on. I now know exactly when I need a new tetanus shot without question. So what does this have to do with sleep and CPAP equipment? Well, you can use DST (or the beginning of Spring, or any other annual event) as a reminder to run a compliance/efficacy report to see how your CPAP therapy is going, or to clean all your equipment thoroughly and take stock of anything you might need to replace, or to schedule an annual exam with your doctor, or whatever. It doesn't even have to be CPAP-related. You might want to use the second Sunday in March as the first day you fertilize your lawn, or when you start your Spring cleaning efforts in the garage.
Of course, you could just forget all that and go play tennis in the park for an extra hour after work.
Whatever you do, don't forget to set your clock forward one hour either before you go to sleep Saturday night, or when you wake up Sunday morning. Since most of your clocks will likely switch automatically for you, you just need to focus on anticipating the change Saturday night and going to bed an hour earlier so you wake up refreshed and feeling great Sunday morning.
Then on the first Sunday in November just remember to switch back to standard time.
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