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WHY DO WE DO THAT? Daylight Saving Time
November 6, 2011
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As of two o'clock this morning, clocks across Canada fell back an hour (except for Saskatchewan). What does that mean for most of us? An extra hour of sleep. A little more sunshine in the morning. And possibly some confusion for those who weren't paying attention and will show up an hour early for work on Monday.

But why do we do this? Where did Daylight Saving Time get started? And what's the point of it, anyway?

Rigid Modern Clocks

Here's the problem: modern people are way too precise. Ever since the invention of accurate timepieces, we've come to see an hour as a definite length of time, measured by clocks that don't take into account what time of year it is. As a result, we find ourselves waking up in the dark for a large portion of the year.

It wasn't always this way. Many ancient civilizations adjusted their daily schedule based on the sun - so in Roman times, water clocks had different scales for different times of year. At winter solstice, the third hour from sunrise lasted 44 minutes, while at summer solstice it lasted a full 75 minutes. Nowadays, an hour's an hour.

Solving the Golf Problem

The idea of Daylight Saving Time was first proposed in 1895 by a New Zealand entomologist named George Vernon Hudson, and although people were interested, it never really went anywhere. Across the world in London, William Willett, an outdoorsman and avid golfer, came up with the same idea in 1905.

What drove him to the conclusion that we needed to shift the clocks forward in spring and back again in the autumn? Well, he hated having to cut his summer rounds of golf short. That probably qualifies as a first world problem. But until his death in 1915, Willett never succeeded in getting his proposal written into law.

Keep Coal and Carry On

The first people to implement Daylight Saving Time were the Germans and their allies in World War I, as a way of conserving coal during wartime. Seeing how well the system worked, Britain and many other European countries followed the example.

Russia and some other countries implemented DST the following year. The U.S. adopted it in 1918, but it wasn't until 1966 that the whole country observed it as one. All Canadian provinces started following the U.S. system in the 1970s, except Saskatchewan, which does not observe DST.

Is DST Good for Us?

Not everyone's in favour of DST - in fact, it's been the focus of serious controversy ever since it was first introduced. One of the most hard-core critics of the scheme is Michael Downing, author of 'Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time'. According to his research, one of the major reasons the United States extended DST in 2007 (so that it ends the first weekend of November), is to appease the candy industry, which wanted an extra hour for trick-or-treaters to go door to door on Halloween night. Seriously.

There are positive stories out there about DST as well. One is that crime rates fall thanks to DST because it allows more people to return home in daylight. Also, the New England Journal of Medicine recently announced that gaining an hour of sleep is good for our hearts - saying that there are many fewer heart attacks in the week after we fall back - but they also point out that heart attacks spike in the three days after we spring forward.

On the negative side, apparently DST can wreak havoc on kids' sleep patterns, helps contribute to more house fires, and can lead to higher suicide rates in the spring.

However you feel about DST as a general concept, there's nothing wrong with an extra hour of sleep on a Sunday. Fall back and enjoy it.

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