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Daylight saving a pain in the bugs

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columns Duluth,Minnesota 55802
Duluth News Tribune
Daylight saving a pain in the bugs
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

Oh, crud, is it that time again? Which way do we turn them? Forward? Back? Do we gain an hour? Shoot, no, we lose an hour of sleep this time. "Spring ahead." Spring, ha! What a joke.


And what a pain to twice a year remember which button to hold in and which other button to press and release to change the clock in the car. (Oh, the heck with it; it'll be correct again in six months!) It's our sleep-depriving daylight saving time ritual, when, as Canadian columnist Philip Vinokuroff put it this week, we all "pretend it is an hour later than it was a second ago."

But why do we endure it?

It can't still be because Benjamin Franklin said money could be saved on candle wax by centering work hours during daylight, as University of British Columbia Professor Emeritus Stanley Coren wrote this week. Candle wax must have been pretty pricey in the late 1700s. Maybe someone's public wax and utilities department jacked up the price by 40 percent during a particularly nasty winter or something.

And it can't any longer be because an entomologist in New Zealand wanted more time to catch bugs, as Vinokuroff found from 1895. The entomologist so loved bugs he suggested moving the clock two hours.

An Englishman so loved golf he suggested daylight saving time a decade later. More daylight in the evenings would mean more putts to miss and improved chances of finding lost balls in the woods. And, of course, that's "a good enough reason to disrupt society in general and set everyone's internal clocks (circadian rhythms) off kilter," as Vinokuroff vented.

Forcing people to change clocks actually started during the world wars to save on oil and other resources (maybe even candle wax) no longer needed for artificial lighting in the evenings. Congress passed the Uniform Time Act in 1966 to detail how the clock changing should be done. Leave it to Congress to come up with 2 a.m., though no one actually waits up to change their clocks to 1 a.m. or 3 a.m., do they?

Adding to the unusualness of all of this, daylight saving time was observed all year in 1973 rather than just during spring and summer. And in 2007, Congress decided to start daylight saving time three weeks earlier and to end it a week later. So it starts the second Sunday of March now. That's this Sunday. Meaning next week gets to feel like midwinter again when the alarm blares while it's still pitch dark outside.

If daylight saving time is such a great idea, why are so many places dumping it?

Parts of China, Iceland and Argentina went to permanent daylight saving time, so no clock-changing for them. In 2011, Russia joined, claiming changing clocks caused too much stress and was raising suicide rates.

While we all should be careful about ever questioning the Russian government, that may have been an exaggeration. Idaho senators did once argue that daylight saving time would bolster sales of French fries, a national golf organization once estimated $200 million to $300 million in additional revenue from greens fees. And 7-Eleven even once said it would tally more Slurpee sales. Has anyone ever seen a Slurpee slurper looking stressed?

Arizona and Hawaii don't observe daylight saving time, so why should any other state? Legislation currently moving through the General Assembly in Nashville would add Tennessee to the list of defectors. And a bill in Boise right now would keep Idaho in Mountain Standard Time year-round.

"This disruption to families, businesses and individuals is significant twice a year," the bill states. "Several studies even show that accidents increase during the week that daylight (saving) time is observed. The adverse (effects) of having to change time is real and can and should be eliminated."

That accidents thing certainly is real. Professor Coren, a sleep expert, studied it, finding a 5 percent to 7 percent increase in traffic and workplace accident fatalities during the three days following spring daylight saving time. Blame sleepiness and early-morning darkness. Surprisingly, no decrease in fatalities was found after the fall daylight saving time because, although people gain an hour, they often don't use it for sleep, Coren found.

"We live in a society that is chronically sleep-deprived," he wrote, his comments posted Tuesday on his university's website. "Very bad things happen when chronic sleep deprivation is an issue."

Not getting enough sleep not only makes us grumpy and harms our mental well-being; it decreases the ability of our immune system to fight off bacterial and viral infections. It also makes it difficult for us to maintain a healthy body mass, and being overweight increases the chances of contracting diabetes, heart disease and other ailments.

So scrap daylight saving time, right? Not necessarily, professor Coren wrote: "Daylight (saving time) actually saves lives." While more people die in the days following the spring shift, data show that accidents quickly taper off as people adjust and then are lower through the fall shift. Credit brighter highways, especially during late-afternoon commutes.

"This occurs over a period of months, so although (daylight saving time) causes an initial hazard, in the end there is a life-saving benefit," Coren wrote. "There is nothing that comes without its cost, and in this case the cost of saving lives in the long term is losing lives in the short term."

Oh, OK, if it means saving lives, we can figure out how to work the clock in the car, right? And tolerate a few more dark mornings. And stock up on candle wax. Especially if we get more Slurpees.

Chuck Frederick is the News Tribune's editorial page editor. Contact him at (218) 723-5316 or at