Springing forward for daylight saving time triggers debate


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One morning in 1784, Benjamin Franklin was sleeping in his house in Paris when a ray of sunshine woke him up.

Instead of closing the shutters and resuming his slumber, Franklin dwelled on the virtue of waking up with the sun, calculating that Parisians wasted 64 million pounds of candle wax every six months by staying up after sunset. In a half-serious essay, he proposed waking up the city with church bells and cannons at sunrise and taxing the use of candles at night.

Now, 230 years later, Franklin's idea of toying with the public's sleeping hours for the sake of efficiency has taken hold.

At 2 a.m. Sunday, daylight saving time will go into effect, springing clocks forward an hour in an effort to save energy. The change will deprive you of a precious hour of sleep, or give you more time to enjoy the sunshine after work, depending on how you look at it.

Carol Ash, director of sleep medicine for Meridian Health in New Jersey, said daylight saving time has a serious impact on sleep rhythms.

"There is a clock in your brain. That clock keeps your internal environment in sync with your eternal environment, and the most important signal for that clock is the light," Dr. Ash said. That internal clock isn't flexible enough to adjust quickly to the time jump, she said.

Dr. Ash recommended avoiding naps and easing into daylight saving by going to bed 15 minutes earlier every night in the days before the change. Eating cherries or drinking cherry juice also helps, she said, because they contain melatonin, which makes it easier to shift sleeping patterns.

Daylight saving time has spirited opponents who decry the confusion and loss of sleep it causes. In recent years, legislators in Alaska, Florida, Nevada and Tennessee have made unsuccessful attempts to opt out of it.

Opponents have mobilized on the Internet, gathering more than 2,000 signatures on petition2congress.com to end the practice. A Facebook group, "Movement to End Daylight Saving Time Nationwide," has almost 1,000 likes.

Some academics have questioned the energy-saving aspect of daylight saving time. A study by Matthew Kotchen of Yale University and Laura Grant of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found that it has increased residential electricity use by about one percent.

In spite of this opposition, the reign of daylight saving time has actually grown in recent years. In an effort to conserve energy, the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 moved the start date from the first Sunday of April to the second Sunday of March, and the end date from the last Sunday in October to the first Sunday in November.

Among those milling around Market Square Friday afternoon, opinions of daylight saving ranged from ambivalence to tepid support. Tiffany Parker of Churchill didn't have an opinion.

"I lived through it all my life, so it's just part of life," she said.

Others, such as Kara Nelson of South Side, supported the practice. "I'm excited," she said. "I can come home from work with actual daylight, and not darkness all day long."

The thought of losing an hour Sunday morning didn't bother her. "It'll just give me an extra reason to sleep in longer," she said.

Our use of daylight saving time dates back to World War I, when Germany moved its clocks back to conserve coal. The United States followed in 1918, thanks in large part to Pittsburgh City Councilman Robert Garland.

Garland lobbied Congress for daylight saving, saying it would give workers more leisure time and help people cultivate war gardens. President Woodrow Wilson recognized his effort by giving him the pens used to sign the bill putting daylight saving into effect, according to Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine.

When Congress repealed daylight saving in 1919, Garland began a crusade to reinstitute it, earning him the title "Father of Daylight Saving Time." The practice resumed during World War II and has been followed since then in most states.


Richard Webner: rwebner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4903.

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