Today@Sam Article

Shedding Light On Daylight Saving Time

March 9, 2021
SHSU Media Contact: Wes Hamilton


Daylight saving time (DST) is fast approaching on March 14 to shine an extra hour of sunlight on our days. Along with a bit of extra sun, DST springs forward questions, curiosities and sometimes grievances about its conception and purpose. Why do we observe it and how did it even start?

Germany was the first country to implement DST on a large scale in 1916, in hopes of preserving energy. Two years later, the United States enacted their first daylight saving time, along with the Standard Time Act. According to Wesley Phelps, associate professor of History at Sam Houston State University, America also had the intention of conserving energy when implementing the time change.

“In the summer months, when there is a lot more daylight in the morning hours, the idea was that if you shift the time ahead by an hour people will use less energy because it will be light longer in their day,” Phelps said.

icon_381443561-39c20b80dafe8114c5b23637dc6d07f53df6b885As a part of the radio program Houston Matters on 88.7 FM, Phelps explains why we are all losing an hour of sleep, the consequences that come along with a bit of extra sun at the end of the day, and the fight to end the practice of changing clocks all together.

Many people believe that farming schedules were the reason DST was enacted, but Phelps claims that is not the case.

“That's a myth,” Phelps said. “Farmers’ hours were dictated by the sun. They had no interest in clock time anyway. Clock time had to be imposed on them.”

DST was short lived, lasting only a year before its reform. It did make a brief return during World War II, but the next few decades were a confusing period for the country in regards to time. Time zones across the nation were in complete disarray. A simple, 30-minute trip could take you through seven different time zones.

TowerDST“It led to a lot of confusion because up until 1966 different parts of the country were observing daylight saving time in different ways and sometimes even in the same location,” Phelps said. “There were city and county employees who actually worked in the same building, but they were on different times.”

This nationwide chaos led the government to enact the Uniform Time Act of 1966 to get everyone in the U.S. on the same page and it worked. States finally had continuity of time across the map.

Things have remained the same, for the most part, with the exception of Arizona, Hawaii and a few U.S. territories that don’t observe the annual phenomenon. In the case of Arizona, residents experience scorching, 104-degree days and DST only extends their discomfort.

“Nighttime is the only time you can really be outside. It's sweltering heat during the daytime and so they didn't want more daylight hours,” Phelps said. “They wanted more nighttime hours so they choose not to do it.”

Although we have observed DST since 1918, there are people who speculate whether or not there is still a use for it in this modern time.

“I think there is this kind of increased questioning of it,” Phelps said. “That suggests that there is a reckoning coming and if we're going to keep it around I think there will have to be some strong arguments for keeping it.”

Whether you are for or against it, remember to get to bed early Saturday, because Sunday, March 14 at 2 a.m., the 103-year-old tradition of springing forward continues.

Learn more about how "falling back" and "springing forward" can influence or disrupt your ability to get a good night’s sleep in this Today@Sam Q&A with SHSU College of Osteopathic Medicine sleep expert Dr. James Barker. 

Dr. Barker is a professor of Clinical Medicine and director of Clinical Skills Training at Sam Houston State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and is board certified in Internal Medicine as well as the subspecialties of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Disorders.

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