Daylight saving time: Why do we wind back the clock?

As college students, the transition out of daylight saving time can be incredibly difficult and inconvenient to cope with. Students tend to stay up later at night and rise later in the day due to their study schedules, using standard time during the winter can be hard, as it decreases exposure to sunlight. What is daylight saving time, though, and why do we wind back the clock every fall?

Though Benjamin Franklin did not invent daylight saving time, he was the first to propose a similar idea. In 1784, he wrote a comedic article for the “Journal De Paris” that poked fun at how Parisians would go to bed late at night and arise late in the day. If only they would change their clock times forward, he said, then “the city of Paris might save every year by the economy of using sunshine instead of candles.”

However, daylight saving time was not officially implemented until World War I and then again during World War II, when the U.S. federal government followed the lead of Germany and Great Britain as a wartime measure in an effort to conserve energy and resources. During the summer, when daylight lasts longer, clocks should be changed so that the home front could be productive further in the evening.

After the Second World War, daylight saving time was federally discontinued, but individual states were allowed to continue it if their governments chose, and many did so. However, the time changes between states caused difficulties for interstate commercial industries such as railroads, so in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson formally standardized daylight saving time by signing into law the Uniform Time Act.

Arizona, Hawaii and several U.S. territories have chosen not to use daylight saving time for their own reasons. For instance, Arizona is so hot in the summer that they did not want to be more active during daylight hours. In Hawaii, the closer proximity to the equator means that summer-to-winter differences are not significant enough to motivate the time change.

Kevan F. Jacobson, associate professor and chair of Southern Utah University’s Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice, spoke on why he believes Utah in particular continues to observe daylight saving time. 

“Inertia and the fact that almost all other states observe it,” Jacobson listed reasons for Utah’s observation. “The long and short of it is that daylight saving time is a function of national emergencies, but it has lived far longer outside of that context.”

Interestingly, the U.S.’s farmers have been advocating against daylight saving time ever since it was first tried during the First World War. “What it actually does is disrupt a farmer’s carefully orchestrated schedule.” explained an article from AgAmerica Lending.  “For instance, if dairy cows are used to being milked at 5:00 a.m., moving the clock back an hour in the fall actually moves their milking time back an hour, and livestock cannot understand waiting another hour to be milked. All in all, most farmers would rather just use the sun and the seasons to determine milking times, planting charts and the best time to harvest.”

Mark Miller, an SUU professor of history, commented on what he believes to be the downsides to the biannual time change. “Many studies have found that the energy savings of DST are minimal, while the costs to sleep, circadian rhythms and overall mental health argue for discontinuing DST once and for all,” said Miller.

Several ideas have been proposed to end the seasonal time changes and have the nation stay on one time all year. Most recently and significantly, the Sunshine Protection Act was proposed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio to keep daylight saving time, as opposed to standard time, permanent. 

“The biggest argument for this approach may be an economic one,” said National Public Radio reporter Emily Olson in her article. “The idea is that having more light in the evenings encourages people to go out and do things — i.e., spend money.” This bill was unanimously passed in the Senate in 2022 but stalled in the House of Representatives when they expressed having higher priorities to work on.

Nineteen states, including Utah, have pledged to switch to permanent daylight saving time if Congress ever chooses to allow this. Currently, states are allowed to remain on permanent standard time but are not allowed to remain on permanent daylight saving time. Should Utah make this change, SUU students would retain one hour of daylight in the evening and have the chance to maintain the healthy sleep habits they no doubt have been practicing all semester. 


Author: Emily Walters
Photos courtesy of SUU
Editor: Lily Brunson