It’s that time of year again. No, not the holidays, although those are fast approaching. It’s time to change the clocks back, as we say goodbye to daylight saving time. At 2 a.m. Sunday (Nov. 5), the clocks “fall back” one hour and we return to standard time — “standard” being the time we use for only four months of the year.
The time change means we get an extra hour of sleep this weekend. If you’re an early riser and dislike waking up in the dark, you’ll be pleased to see much brighter mornings. But with daylight in short supply this time of year, setting the clocks back will rob us of even more evening light. Get ready for sunsets in the 5 o’clock hour and trekking home from work in the dark.
In D.C., Sunday’s sunrise and sunset move back to 6:40 a.m. and 5:03 p.m., respectively, compared to Saturday’s 7:38 a.m. sunrise and 6:04 p.m. sunset.
The end of daylight saving time roughly coincides with the start of our darkest stretch of the year. From Nov. 9 until Jan. 5, sunset in D.C. occurs before 5 p.m. And between Nov. 17 and Jan. 25, the sun is up for less than 10 hours each day. We’re now less than seven weeks away from the winter solstice (Dec. 21), when the sun will be up for just 9 hours and 26 minutes.
If you’re not a fan of early sunsets, here’s some good news: After we switch the clocks back, we don’t lose a whole lot more evening light. Between Nov. 5 — our first day back on standard time — and the winter solstice, D.C. loses another 43 minutes of morning light, but only 14 minutes in the evening. So once we get used to the early dusk, at least it doesn’t get a whole lot worse.
Why do we still bother with daylight saving time?
Whenever daylight saving time (DST) starts or ends, we hear the same debate about whether the system is worth keeping. Originally adopted in Europe and the U.S. to save energy during World War I, DST has long been controversial. Research now shows that switching the clocks twice a year saves little, if any, energy, and we often hear the practice is bad for our health. Some 70 countries around the world use daylight saving time, and in many of them, public debate about whether to keep the system has grown. Even within the U.S., states such as Massachusetts and Maine are considering permanently ending DST and joining a new time zone.
But for all the debate we’ve heard so far, few countries or states have garnered enough political support to either permanently abolish daylight saving time or keep it year-round. Arizona and Hawaii are the only two U.S. states that don’t use DST, but neither of them has used it since at least the 1960s. Most places have reliably used the same DST-schedule for years, if not decades. It therefore seems unlikely that the current system will change in the near term.
One of the main challenges is figuring out whether to keep DST year-round or permanently return to standard time. Ditching DST would mean darker evenings for much of the year and very early sunrises during the peak of summer. Businesses and industries like tourism and outdoor recreation would likely thwart any serious effort to scrap DST entirely.
Year-round daylight saving time would be the more logical option, given how many people dislike losing evening daylight when the clocks fall back. But staying on DST all through winter would lead to very dark mornings. Farmers, as well as parents worried about the safety of children going to school in the dark, would be quick to voice their opposition.
In the end, it’s no surprise we’re stuck with the status quo. Despite all the complaints we hear about the uselessness of daylight saving time, we’ve begrudgingly accepted this biannual time-changing ritual for decades. Why? Because it’s familiar. It may be inconvenient, but changing the seasonal sunrise and sunset schedule we’re used to would benefit either early birds or night owls. Not both.
While I personally think year-round DST is the way to go, the current system isn’t a bad compromise. It’s better we all complain together for a few days twice a year than be stuck with a new daylight schedule half of us don’t like.