What Are We Saving Daylight For?

Can I just note, for the record, that I hate losing our hour of daylight each winter? I understand the science of the issue. (Get your inner geek on and go to Wired Magazine’s article. You can be “that person” at the water cooler this morning.) The issue for me isn’t the social jet lag or the impact of the time change on my body’s sleep rhythm. I don’t really even care about the economic impact of extra daylight in the evenings versus the early mornings. Quite simply: I want to know what we are saving the daylight for? Some future expense? Later down the line, do I get to withdraw some of my saved daylight?

My desire for extra daylight is entirely selfish: I would rather go to work in the dark and have time to play in the afternoon. Sitting at my desk with darkness outside is not really an issue. But, when I go home at 5:30 and want to play catch with my kids or go for a walk, it’s almost dark. Worse yet, with two boys at home, losing that extra hour of daylight moves them inside and within striking distance of each other. While I have no actual data to prove my claim, I’m pretty convinced that sibling fisticuffs increase when it gets dark early. Younger brothers and sisters around the world–Unite!

But, such narcissistic and egotistical arguments are too easily dismissed so let’s try to push this outside my own self-interest and aim for a social benefit. Weight gains, across the spectrum, increase during the winter months.  Why? Sure, we can try to explain it away by discussing hormones or evolutionary desires to horde fats, but I’m not sure that explains everything. But, we know television and movie viewing increases in the winter (t.v. shows are introduced in the fall) and people are less likely to exercise outside when it gets colder. Let’s put our parent hats on for a minute: anyone out there recommend that your kids watch more tv, exercise less, and eat more?

I’m not saying there is causation here (unless it convinces you to write your political representative) but there is clearly correlation. We pack on the pounds and the holidays aren’t the only reason. We exercise less , veg more, and cold can’t be the only answer.

But, since very few people feel sorry for the middle class white guy, let’s tug at your heart strings and create an educational benefit. In addition to the negative impact obesity has on learning, sleep patterns have a major impact on student educational achievement. We know, in fact, that “medical evidence suggests that an early school start time before 8:30 AM is a greater culprit because classes are occurring when students’ brains and bodies are still in biological sleep mode.” 

Quick reader poll: do you sleep better when it’s dark or when it’s daylight? (Don’t answer if you are one of those people who fall asleep at will.) Most normal people sleep better in the dark (that’s why we go to bed at night, right?). Follow my contorted logic here: If we change the clocks so it gets daylight sooner, we wake up sooner. When we wake up kids sooner, they do worse in school. Ergo, we shouldn’t let it get daylight so soon. (Someone might try to argue that if it gets dark sooner, teenagers will go to bed sooner so waking up sooner won’t result in a net loss of sleep. Such a person has never had teenagers.)

The simple reality is that we change our clocks because of either economic, health, or historical reasons and none of those reasons really hold up to scrutiny. Despite Benjamin Franklin’s admonition “early to bed, early to rise” and in spite of perceived energy savings, the extra hour of daylight gives us greater opportunities to be outside,  fewer reasons to sit in front of the tv, and it gives younger siblings around the world the freedom to avoid getting slapped around by the older kids in the house.

Just remember–it’s not about me. It’s about the kids.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

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Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

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Inside Higher Ed

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

FiveThirtyEight

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Balloon Juice

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Scott Adams' Blog

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

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