A Brief History of Daylight Saving Time

While many of us have been springing forward every March and falling back each November, most of us have probably given little thought to where this practice comes from. And other than disrupting our sleep for a day or two, what purpose does Daylight Saving Time (DST) even serve? 

What Is Daylight Saving Time?

You’re probably familiar with daylight saving time, but have you ever stopped to think about what it actually is? It’s fairly straightforward — it’s partly in the name, after all — but here’s the TLDR: 

Basically, in North America, for a little under half the year, we live on what’s called Standard time. However, from March to November, we operate under DST. What that means is we either “fall back” in November — aka set the clocks back an hour —  or “spring forward” an hour in March (aka set our clocks forward an hour). 

What is daylight saving time supposed to accomplish? Glad you asked! In theory, the idea is that we’re adjusting our daily lives to get more sunlight (that’s where the “saving” part of the name comes into play). By springing forward as the days start to lengthen, we’re giving ourselves more evening daylight; by falling back in the winter, we’re taking advantage of the morning sunlight before the sun starts disappearing at 4 p.m. every day. 

This year, daylight saving time ends on November 6th, 2022 (so don’t forget to set yourself a reminder and set those clocks back!!). 

Whose Idea Was Daylight Saving Time, Anyway?

While most people think that Benjamin Franklin was the mastermind behind us tinkering with our clocks twice a year, that’s not entirely true. Benjamin Franklin penned an essay titled “An Economical Project,” where he threw out the idea of making the most of the daylight, but nothing ever really came of it. Ultimately, it would have been today’s equivalent of an op-ed. 

The real mastermind behind changing the clocks biannually was William Willett, an Englishman who, in 1907, published a brochure entitled “The Waste of Daylight.” Arguing that people should enjoy the daylight as much as possible, Willet lobbied the British Parliament for these changes up until his death in 1915. 

While Willet didn’t succeed in his native England, Germany adopted Daylight saving in 1916 to conserve energy during World War I. Unfortunately, William Willet wasn’t alive to see it, but England followed suit in 1917 for the same reasons — energy conservation. The United States would soon follow, switching to DST in March of 1918. The change was short-lived, however, as Daylight Saving Time was repealed in 1919 once the war was over. 

Daylight Saving Time In America And Around The World

Fast forward to 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act. This act put the adoption of Daylight Saving Time to a vote. Essentially, each state was given a choice to adopt DST or opt out. Ultimately, the bill was a success. Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on April 13, 1966, The Uniform Time Act mandated national start and end dates for Daylight Saving Time. 

Just as Ben Franklin and William Willetts intended, Daylight Saving Time gave folks more time to enjoy the daylight after work. It provided for people to move their clocks one hour ahead in the spring and move them back one hour in the fall. 

Today Daylight Saving Time is observed in 70 countries around the world, including

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • New Zealand
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

The Ebb And Flow Of Daylight Saving Time 

During the Arab-Israeli War in 1973, when the United States faced an oil embargo by OPEC, Congress ordered a year-long Daylight Saving Time, hoping to save energy in the face of massive oil and gas shortages in America. Initially proposed to run from January 1974 to April 1975, the plan didn’t work, and the United States switched back to Standard Time in October 1974. 

The Sunshine Protection Act

A new bill (The Sunshine Protection Act) is being debated that will decide how we will manage this time going forward. Citing the biannual transitions’ risk to our heart health, its disruptions to our sleep, and its effects on our mental health, Senator Marco Rubio reintroduced the bill in March 2022.

In support of the bill, Rubio’s camp cites a host of potential benefits, including: 

And while the Senate isn’t usually a place where we find cooperation and a meeting of the minds, the Sunshine Act is certainly one for the history books — the Senate unanimously passed the bill to make Daylight Saving Time permanent. 

Despite unanimity in the Senate; the bill has come into some opposition. Of note is the stance taken by The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). While the organization “supports the elimination of the biannual time changes in March and November in favor of a national, fixed, year-round time in the U.S,” the organization is pushing for permanent standard time instead. 

“Standard time is a better option than daylight saving time for our health, mood and well-being,” said AASM President Dr. Raman Malhotra in a press release on the topic. “By aligning our clock time more closely with the timing of the sun, standard time helps synchronize our bodies with our natural environment, which is optimal for our daytime functioning and nighttime sleep.”

Currently, the bill is stalled in the house. In addition to disagreements on certain language in the bill, lawmakers have several other issues at hand to address, like skyrocketing inflation and gun violence. 

Ultimately, changing our clocks biannually falls to the bottom of the list. Should it spring back to the top and get passed, it would not take effect until November 2024. 

Sharon Brandwein

Sharon Brandwein

Sharon Brandwein is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a freelance writer. She specializes in health and beauty, parenting, and of course, all things sleep. Sharon’s work has also appeared on ABC News, USAToday, and Forbes. When she’s not busy writing, you might find her somewhere curating a wardrobe for her puppy.

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