Saturday, October 28, 2006

A closer look at daylight-saving time

Twice a year, in the fall and in the spring, for no discernible reason, we have to mess with the clocks. Why did we ever start? And when? And what does it do, aside from throwing off the digital displays on some VCRs and car clocks all around the world? Here are eight points about the time change that you might not know ...

Why the change from daylight- saving time to standard time?

The core idea is to get the most use out of the day's available sunlight; the shifts make for later sunsets during warmer months, earlier sunrises during colder ones.

The concept of standard time was instituted in 1883 to help railroads standardize their schedules and establish time zones. Congress legally established it for everyone in 1918. Daylight-saving time (not daylight savings time) was implemented two weeks later, for the duration of World War I. It was brought back as America entered World War II, when DST was observed year-round (this was called "War Time") but done away with again in 1945. In 1966, the Uniform Time Act brought it back into practice for good. Ever since then, we "fall back" and "spring forward."

Isn't DST changing next year?

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which begins next year, will change the dates for daylight-saving time in the United States.

Starting in 2007, DST will begin on the second Sunday in March and extend to the first Sunday of November.

Who first thought up this idea of switching clocks backward and forward?

It's long believed that Benjamin Franklin came up with an early version of daylight-saving time. In 1784, in a letter to the Journal of Paris, Franklin -- then an American delegate living abroad -- advocated candle conservation during the 183 shorter nights between March 20 and Sept. 20.

If people got up earlier and made better use of sunlight, he argued, a fortune in Parisian wax could be saved. Franklin may have just been joking; after all, he proposed using cannon fire to wake citizens at dawn. But serious or not, he closed his letter with a pointed jab at naysayers: "It is impossible that so sensible a people, under such circumstances, should have lived so long by the smoky, unwholesome, and enormously expensive light of candles, if they had really known, that they might have had as much pure light of the sun for nothing."

It's said that Norfolk Southern stops its Norfolk-bound trains for an hour at Crewe to catch up timewise on the nights we fall back. Fact or urban legend?

"We don't stop our trains," said Allison Enedy, a Norfolk Southern spokeswoman. "We just issue a standard operating bulletin. It doesn't affect the running of our trains, the operating schedule of our trains or anything like that."

What about third-shift workers who are at work when the clock shifts?

Different companies handle it different ways. When we gain an hour Sunday morning, for example, late-night employees at Steel Dynamics Roanoke Bar, formerly Roanoke Electric Steel, get a kind of bonus. "We pay them for the extra hour," said Phil Ramey, a human resources director for the company.

Unfortunately that technicality becomes a double-edged sword in the spring. Ramey said third-shift employees lose that extra hour when clocks spring forward.

"At least it evens out," Ramey said.

What about last call at bars?

Virginia watering holes can't serve alcohol past 2 a.m. But when we switch to standard time, 2 a.m. suddenly becomes 1 a.m. again.

Can patrons use that new hour to extend their imbibitions? Bars "do kind of get a bonus hour," said Kristy Smith, a public relations specialist with the central office of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control. Whether bar owners use that hour is up to them.

"We keep regular time that whole day, then after we close we push [the clocks] forward," said Barry Caldwell, owner of Awful Arthur's Seafood Co.

Cornerstone Bar & Grill takes a casual approach. "We push last call a little longer," said Colin Jones, the bar manager.

Does it affect sleep cycles?

"Children are the ones of biggest concern," said Teresa Carroll, a sleep technologist and director of Carilion Sleep Center. "City schools have an earlier school time, then you put in the fact that children of all ages don't get enough sleep. Then, on top of that, two nights later is Halloween and kids are out."

Carroll said preschoolers need about 11 to 13 hours of sleep at night; kids ages 5-12 require about 10 to 11 hours; those older than 12 should get 8 12 to 9 14 hours a night.

"It takes a good week for people to finally make the adjustment in their [sleep] schedules," she said.

Do other countries change their clocks too?

Yes. Japan is the only major industrialized country that doesn't observe a time change. The U.S. introduced it there after World War II, but the Japanese dispensed with it in 1952, largely because of opposition from farmers. Some parts of the United States do not observe the time change, including Arizona and Hawaii, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

More thoughts on daylight-saving time

Loving the time change ...

Thank goodness we're about to be rid of daylight-saving time. Every spring this absurd business steals an hour from my night, and keeps it for six long months.

Getting up in the morning becomes a torment, going to sleep at night an exercise in frustration -- the clock says 11, but my body knows it's only 10.

They say it's a way to get more sunshine. Who needs more sunshine in the summertime? I get plenty, thanks. Have they never heard of sunburn? Sunstroke? Skin cancer?

If some people want more sunlight in the summertime, they could just get up earlier, it seems to me, and let the rest of us be.

On Oct. 29, sanity returns. I'm planning to sleep in.

-- Kevin Kittredge

... and hating it

Does anyone else hate the switch back to standard time?

Beginning Oct. 29, we will turn our clocks back and cheat ourselves out of an hour of daylight every evening.

I have never understood this. In winter, it gets dark earlier. Why make it worse by spinning the clock back?

By the time work ends, the sky is black. There will be no cycling. No tennis. No Vitamin D.

Let's switch this around. Before the winter months, why not spin the clock an hour the other way? Make it two hours. Save some daylight for when it really matters, at night.

Of course, some will complain about the dark mornings. I don't care. We have coffee for that.

-- Joe Eaton

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