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To switch or not to switch: Daylight saving analysed


Christopher Craig

By

October 9th, 2019


Last weekend most Australians switched their clocks forward one hour in a time-honoured tradition. What is the point of this worldwide ritual, and is it causing us more harm than good? Chris Craig takes a look.


The idea of daylight saving was first conceived of by Benjamin Franklin, who woke up early one morning and, amazed by the brightness of the Sun, cheekily wrote to the local newspaper proclaiming the resources that could be saved if everyone joined him in rising early.[1] The idea was properly formalised and proposed by New Zealander George Hudson in 1895. However, it did not see widespread implementation until World War I.[2] First introduced by Germany to conserve energy and therefore fuel, other nations such as Britain, the US and Australia soon caught on.[3],[4] The unpopularity of the measure however meant that daylight saving didn’t last long, and was only reintroduced for World War II.[5],[6] It wasn’t until Tasmania suffered a particularly nasty drought in the late 1960s that Australia saw peacetime daylight saving.[7] Surprisingly, the people of Tasmania loved the policy this time around, and what was meant to be another emergency measure became a permanent fixture across the southern Australian States. We aren’t alone either, with over one billion people across the world experiencing daylight saving time.[8] Its popularity is starting to wane in some areas however, with the majority of Americans opposing the idea, and the EU preparing to quit the practice in 2021.[9],[10] Is there any merit to this opposition?

Energy consumption

As stated, daylight saving was originally implemented to conserve energy. Unfortunately for supporters however this justification is not reflected in the research. Some studies do show decreases in energy consumption, however many have also shown increases.[11] These increases are largely explained by the nature of modern energy consumption – lightbulbs are so efficient that their reduced usage is outweighed by increased energy expenditure on heating and cooling.[12] Whilst the research is somewhat ambiguous regarding the direction of energy consumption changes, it is more consistent regarding the magnitude. Most studies show such minute changes that researchers have concluded that energy consumption cannot justify daylight saving.[13] It is also worth noting that a large-scale study on the topic in Australia, which examined the changes in energy consumption caused by the altered daylight saving period around the Sydney Olympics, found negligible net effects.[14]

Other effects

There are many other impacts of daylight saving however. Heart attacks have been shown to increase by 25% on the Monday following the spring switch, whilst the autumn switch causes a temporary 11% spike in depression.[15],[16] Our health isn’t the only thing to suffer from daylight saving though. A US study from 2000 showed that the average one-day loss caused by a daylight saving time change was more than US$30 billion.[17] Workplace accidents also increase in both frequency and severity following the spring switch, with no commensurate decrease in autumn.[18] Further, fatal car accidents show a small but significant increase on both the autumn Sunday, and the spring Monday.[19] Workplace productivity also suffers, with rates of ‘cyberloafing’ increasing dramatically on the spring Monday.[20] Even our criminals have it tough, with prison sentences handed down on the spring Monday being 5% longer than on other Mondays.[21] Indeed, the economic burden (for America) of daylight saving from cyberloafing, car accidents, and workplace injuries alone was estimated at US$434 million in 2010.[22]

There are some benefits to daylight saving time however. For example, daily robbery rates fall by around 7% during daylight saving time, likely due to greater visibility caused by the long afternoons.[23] The rise in heart attacks during spring is also somewhat negated by the autumn switch, which sees a relatively smaller, but still significant, drop in such incidents. Other traditionally argued benefits of daylight saving aren’t exactly supported by the evidence though. Whilst children do exercise slightly more due to daylight saving, a study tracking the exercise habits of Australian adults found that 8% of respondents stopped exercising completely when daylight saving came around.[24] Further, whilst consumer spending does slightly increase following the spring switch, this is more than offset by a drop in spending caused by the autumn switch.[25]

A possible solution?

There may be a way to reduce daylight saving’s negative effects, accentuate its benefits, and still allow us to keep our long and lazy summer barbeques. We could simply extend daylight saving time throughout the year – that is, make it the new standard time. All of the costs of the switch, such as workplace accidents, heart attacks and stock market falls, would be a relic of the past. Further, not only would there be no car accidents surrounding the switches, but even more lives would be saved from permanent daylight saving due to the brighter commute home (outweighing the losses from darker mornings).[26] We would also be able to enjoy the benefits of less crime throughout the year. This solution isn’t perfect – not many people would enjoy an 8.30am sunrise in the middle of a Melbournian winter – but in order to save lives and millions of dollars, it may be a worthwhile sacrifice.


[1] Handwerk, B. (2012). Daylight Saving Time 2012: Why and When Does It End? Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/10/121031-daylight-savings-time-2012-when-does-fall-back-nation/

[2] Blakemore, E. (2018). Why do we have daylight saving time? 100 years of history. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/03/daylight-savings-time-arizona-florida-spring-forward-science/#targetText=Thrift%20wasn’t%20the%20only,bug%20hunting%20in%20the%20summer

[3] Handwerk, B. (2012). Daylight Saving Time 2012: Why and When Does It End? Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/10/121031-daylight-savings-time-2012-when-does-fall-back-nation/

[4] Baker, G. (2007). summer 2007-08. Retrieved from https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/RP0708/08rp06

[5] Kamstra, M. J., Kramer, L. A., & Levi, M. D. (2000). Losing Sleep at the Market: The Daylight Saving Anomaly. The American Economic Review, 90 (4), 1005-1011. doi: 10.1257/aer.90.4.1005

[6] Newman, T. A. (1984). About time – daylight saving in Tasmania. The Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, 118, 21-35. Retrieved from http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/php/Daylight%20Savings/dls84.pdf

[7] Newman, T. A. (1984). About time – daylight saving in Tasmania. The Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, 118, 21-35. Retrieved from http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/php/Daylight%20Savings/dls84.pdf

[8] Houlihan, R. (2019). Where did daylight saving come from and which states have it? Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/national/where-did-daylight-saving-come-from-and-which-states-have-it-20191003-p52xfe.html

[9] Ballard, J. (2019). 54% of Americans would support ending Daylight Saving Time. Retrieved from https://today.yougov.com/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2019/03/06/daylight-saving-time-poll-survey

[10] Boffey, D. (2019). European parliament vote to scrap daylight saving time from 2021. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/26/european-parliament-votes-to-scrap-daylight-saving-time-from-2021

[11] Mirza, F. M., & Bergland, O. (2011). The impact of daylight saving time on electricity consumption: Evidence from southern Norway and Sweden. Energy Policy, 39, 3558-3571. doi: 10.1016/j.enpol.2011.03.057

[12] Kotchen, J. M., & Grant, E. L. (2011). Does Daylight Saving Time Save Energy? Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Indiana. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 93 (4), 1172-1185. doi: 10.13140/RG.2.1.3924.5202

[13] Havranek, T., Herman, D., & Irsova, Z. (2018). Does Daylight Saving Save Electricity? A Meta-Analysis. The Energy Journal, 39 (2), 63-86. doi: 10.5547/01956574.39.2.thav.

[14] Kellog, R., & Wolff, H. (2008). Daylight time and energy: Evidence from an Australian experiment. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 56 (3), 207-220. doi: 10.1016/j.jeem.2008.02.003.

[15] Michigan Medicine. (2017). Why Daylight Saving Time Could Increase Your Heart Attack Risk. Retrieved from https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/heart-health/why-daylight-saving-time-could-increase-your-heart-attack-risk

[16] Hansen, B., Sønderskov, K., Hageman, I., Dinesen, P., & Østergaard, S. (2017). Daylight Savings Time Transitions and the Incidence Rate of Unipolar Depressive Episodes. Epidemiology, 28 (3), 346-353. doi 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000580

[17] Kramer, L. (2018). Here’s what happens the day after the clocks change. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/heres-what-happens-the-day-after-the-clocks-change-106243

[18] Barnes, C. M., & Wagner, D. T. (2009). Changing to Daylight Saving Time Cuts Into Sleep and Increases Workplace Injuries. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94 (5), 1305-1317. doi: 10.1037/a0015320

[19] Varughese, J., & Allen, R. P. (2001). Fatal accidents following changes in daylight savings time: The American experience. Sleep Medicine, 2 (1), 31-36. doi: 10.1016/S1389-9457(00)00032-0

[20] Wagner, D. T., Barnes, C. M., Lim, V. K., & Ferris, D. L. (2012). Lost sleep and cyberloafing: Evidence from the laboratory and a daylight saving time quasi-experiment. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 97 (5), 1068-76. doi: 10.1037/a0027557

[21] Cho, K., Barnes, C. M., & Guanara, C. L. (2016). Sleepy Punisher Are Harsh Punishers: Daylight Saving Time and Legal Sentences. Psychological Science, 28 (2), 242-247. doi: 10.1177/0956797616678437

[22] Burns, J. (2018). Daylight Saving Is Horrible And Expensive, So Let’s End This. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/janetwburns/2018/11/02/daylight-saving-is-horrible-and-expensive-so-lets-end-it/#607efe2788bb

[23] Doleac, J., & Sanders, N. J. (2015). Under the Cover of Darkness: How Ambient Light Influences Criminal Activity. Review of Economics and Statistics, 97 (5), 1093-1103. doi: 10.1162/REST_a_00547

[24] Rawashdeh, O. (2018). How the switchover to daylight saving time affects our health. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/how-the-switchover-to-daylight-saving-time-affects-our-health-93646

[25] Farrell, D., Narasiman, V., & Ward, M. Jr. (2016). Shedding Light on Daylight Saving Time. Retrieved from  https://www.jpmorganchase.com/corporate/institute/document/jpmc-institute-daylight-savings-report.pdf

[26] Ferguson, S. A., Preusser, D. F., Lund, A. K., & Zador, P. L. (1995). Daylight Saving Time and motor vehicle crashes: the reduction in pedestrian and vehicle occupant fatalities. American Journal of Public Health, 85 (1), 92-95. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.85.1.92

The views expressed within this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of the ESSA Committee or the Society's sponsors. Use of any content from this article should clearly attribute the work to the author and not to ESSA or its sponsors.

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