Today the sun is shining during my commute home from work. But this weekend, public service announcements will remind us to “fall back,” ending daylight saving time (DST) by setting our clocks an hour earlier on Sunday, Nov. 6. On Nov. 7, many of us will commute home in the dark.
This semiannual ritual shifts our rhythms and temporarily makes us groggy at times when we normally feel alert. Moreover, many Americans are confused about why we spring forward to DST in March and fall back in November, and whether it is worth the trouble.
The practice of resetting clocks is not designed for farmers, whose plows follow the sun regardless of what time clocks say it is. Yet many people continue to believe that farmers benefit, including lawmakers during recent debates over changing California DST laws. Massachusetts is also studying whether to abandon DST.
Changing our clocks does not create extra daylight. DST simply shifts when the sun rises and sets relative to our society’s regular schedule and routines. The key question, then, is how people respond to this enforced shift in natural lighting. Most people have to be at work at a certain time – say, 8:30 a.m. – and if that time comes an hour earlier, they simply get up an hour earlier. The effect on society is another question, and there, the research shows DST is more burden than boon.