Daylight saving time is now in effect over much of the United States, and anyone who had to work on Sunday, March 13 lost an hour of sleep the night before. Changing clocks back an hour makes it seem like the sun is out significantly longer than before, but is this a tradition whose time is passed?

Every spring, millions of Americans ask themselves - and each other - whether or not it is still worthwhile to set clocks an hour ahead for the warmer months. Two states, Arizona and Hawaii, have already "opted out" of using daylight saving time (DST). The tradition takes place in 70 countries around the world, as well as in most places in the United States.

"This change helps keep the hours of daylight coordinated with the time that most people are active. Proponents feel that this saves energy because in the spring and summer months more people may be outside in the evening and not using energy at home. There are, however, ongoing debates about how much energy is saved," the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) states.

Contrary to popular opinion, the custom of setting clocks forward an hour in the spring was not created for the benefit of farmers. The practice was first utilized in Germany during World War I as a means of saving energy for the war effort. Before long, the United States, France and the United Kingdom all soon adopted the practice. In America, the first period of daylight saving lasted just seven months before being repealed. The idea was reborn in 1942, during the next great war.

The Uniform Time Act of 1966 set the period of daylight saving time between April and October each year. Nine years later, that period was extended to eight months each year, in an effort to save fuel during the oil crisis. That change was later amended by Congress in 2005, as part of the Energy Policy Act, which declared that DST would last from March to November.

Several health officials are concerned about the effect DST may have on the human body. This includes a new study out of Germany that suggests that people never fully adapt to the altered time. Heart attacks increase 10 percent in the days following the weekend where clocks spring ahead, although doctors are uncertain why this occurs.

In addition to health problems, Americans do not seem to be fond of daylight saving time, either. In March 2013, polling company Rasmussen asked people if DST was worth the trouble. Just 37 percent said yes, while 45 percent spoke out against the practice.

"The whole proposition that you can gain or lose an hour is at best theoretical. So I think from the start people had no clear idea what we were doing or why we were doing it. It just generates confusion, and confusion generates bad will," Michael Downing, author of "Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time," said.

Even the ultimate purpose of daylight saving time, saving energy, is questionable. Several studies show that although use of artificial lights in evenings is reduced, energy demands during darker mornings negates any savings from the practice. As Americans head out the door for activities during the lighted evenings, cars also push more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, increasing the dangers of global warming.

Daylight saving time is not likely to go away soon, but neither will controversies surrounding the practice.

Photo: Iraia Martínez | Flickr

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