What Is the Point of Daylight Saving Time?

By: William Harris, Kathryn Whitbourne & Desiree Bowie  | 
commuters, grand central terminal
Commuters walk through the morning bright sunlight coming from the 60 feet (18m) high windows in Grand Central Terminal in New York City on March 11, 2019, the first morning after DST took effect. Many are asking themselves, "What is the point of daylight savings time?" Fun fact: There's actually no "s" at the end of "daylight saving." TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

According to astronomers, the big bang created both time and space nearly 14 billion years ago. Since then, time has perpetually unfolded.

Humans have long tried to affect this unraveling process, to make it happen more slowly or quickly. Einstein even predicted it was possible — if we could travel at the speed of light. Yet, such speeds remain unattainable, leaving us with consistent, universal time.


But we've found ways to adjust time to our benefit. Daylight saving time, where clocks shift one hour ahead to extend evening daylight, exemplifies this manipulation. But some may wonder: What is the point of daylight saving time? And why doesn't every region adhere to it? Let's dig in.

Benjamin Franklin's Role

First, let's explore where this all started in the first place. In this case, it all goes back to one of the U.S.'s founding fathers: Benjamin Franklin.

He first conceived the idea of daylight saving time (DST) in 1784 while serving as the U.S. ambassador to France. He observed that many Parisians slept through sunlit hours and used candles well into the evening and pondered (perhaps a bit jokingly) if adjusting schedules to align with longer summer days would conserve tallow and wax.


Though he whimsically suggested using cannons to wake people early, it's believed he was jesting with his audience. Despite introducing the idea in an article, Franklin didn't further pursue DST. It took more than a century before DST received serious consideration as a practical timekeeping method.

Now let's look at how daylight saving time works and what happens when we "spring forward" and "fall back."


DST Around the Globe

DST delivers the most benefits when the days are long, as they are during summer. If you recall from your high school Earth science class, seasons are reversed in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. When it's summer in North America, it's winter in South America and vice versa.

That means DST rules must also be reversed.


In the Northern Hemisphere, DST starts in the spring — typically between March and April — and concludes in the fall — between September and November. In the Southern Hemisphere, DST begins between September and November and ends between March and April.

These start and stop dates are completely arbitrary, but over the years, most countries have adopted similar guidelines. The United States follows rules established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. According to that legislation, daylight saving time begins in the U.S. (a country in the Northern Hemisphere) at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday in March.

That's when many Americans move their clocks forward by one hour and, if they're diligent citizens, replace their smoke detector batteries. It ends about eight months later; at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday in November, clocks move back an hour and standard time reigns again.

Rules and Regulations

Although the U.S. Energy Policy Act thoughtfully provides rules to standardize the implementation of daylight saving time, it doesn't require all states to follow them. In fact, any state or territory can apply for an exemption and, if it's granted, sidestep DST and remain on standard time throughout the year.

Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and most of Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Indian Reservation) all chose this option. Indiana, which used to observe DST in only 15 of its 90 counties, now "springs forward" and "falls back" across the whole state.

Don't think Americans are alone in their zeal to stretch out summer days. Since its introduction, at least 66 countries have practiced DST, but some later abandoned it for various reasons.

European nations have been taking advantage of what they call "summer time" for decades, but they didn't standardize it until 1996, when the European Union adopted a common DST schedule that runs from the last Sunday in March through the last Sunday in October.


How DST Works

adjusting clock
Howard Brown adjusts the time on a clock he just repaired as he hangs it on the wall at Brown's Old Time Clock Shop in Plantation, Florida. He'll have a lot of clocks to adjust in anticipation of Daylight Saving Time. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Regardless of the specific rules implemented by a country, starting and stopping DST works the same way. A popular start time is 2 a.m., because most people are zonked out, and most businesses are closed. At that time, the clock moves forward exactly one hour. Here's a second-by-second account of what occurs:

1:59:58 — It's standard time.


1:59:59 — Yep, still standard time.

3:00:00 — We're on daylight saving time now.

3:00:01 — Daylight saving time rocks on for the next few months.

Notice that every second between 2:00:00 and 2:59:59 disappears completely. To start DST, a full hour must be skipped! In the fall, when daylight saving time ends, you get the lost hour back because the time from 1:00:00 to 1:59:59 is repeated for one day. Here's what it looks like:

1:59:58 — Daylight saving time still rules.

1:59:59 — DST's last hurrah.

1:00:00 — Standard time has assumed command.

1:00:01 — Standard time rolls on until the next time ...

Notice that the clock moves from 1:59:59 to 1:00:00, not 2:00:00. In other words, one full hour occurs twice, and the day ends up being 25 hours long.

Most people don't ever need to refer to time within this hour, but if they do, say, because a birth or death occurred, they need to mention whether it was before or after the change back to standard time.

It's taken a few years — and several changes — to perfect this time-switching model.


So, What's the Point of Daylight Saving Time?

We know how it works, but why was daylight saving time created? Simply put, the practice of setting the clocks forward by one hour during warmer months to extend evening daylight allows people to make better use of natural daylight.

This shift reduces the need for artificial lighting in the evenings and decreases energy consumption, promoting energy conservation and allowing us to advantage of longer daylight periods during spring and summer.


However, its actual energy savings and broader impacts remain debated. While many countries observe DST, others have abandoned or never adopted it, citing minimal benefits or disruptions to routines.

History of Daylight Saving Time

The English champion of tweaking time, William Willett.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The concept of DST dates back to ancient civilizations, where daily schedules were adjusted based on the sun. The idea of modern DST was first proposed in 1895 by George Hudson, an entomologist from New Zealand, who wanted more evening light for insect collection. British builder William Willett later championed the idea in 1907 to reduce daylight wastage.

DST gained traction during World War I, with Germany adopting it in 1916 for energy conservation. Many countries, including the U.S., followed. Its use persisted during World War II for similar reasons. The U.S. sought to standardize DST with the Uniform Time Act in 1966, setting its observance from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October.


However, in response to the Arab oil embargo, the U.S. wound up observing year-round DST in 1974 and 1975, sometimes referred to as periods of "permanent" daylight saving time.

A little over a decade later, former President Ronald Reagan adjusted DST's start to the first Sunday in April in 1986. Then, in 2005, President George Bush extended DST from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November, effective from 2007. That year, Indiana also standardized its DST observance.

Today, DST is practiced in over 70 countries, impacting billions. While its energy-saving benefits are debated, some regions have opted out due to health concerns.


Arguments for Daylight Saving Time

There it stands at Greenwich, London, the famous Prime Meridian of the world, the basis for all maps and time calculations.
Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images

DST has been debated for decades. Here are the main arguments supporting DST:

  1. Energy conservation: DST can help to save energy by reducing the need for artificial lighting in the evenings and morning heating, decreasing electricity consumption.
  2. Economic benefits: Extended daylight can boost retail sales and benefit the tourism and recreation sectors, as people engage in outdoor activities longer.
  3. Road safety: Evidence suggests DST improves road safety by providing more light during evening rush hours, potentially reducing traffic accidents.
  4. Reduction in crime: Extended evening daylight can decrease certain crimes committed in public spaces due to increased visibility.
  5. Improved mental health: More daylight can have a positive impact on mood and help combat seasonal affective disorder. It encourages outdoor activities, benefiting physical and mental health.
  6. Environmental benefits: Reducing artificial lighting and heating can lead to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, aiding environmental conservation.
  7. Synchronization of activities: DST aligns activities like school or work with natural daylight, leading to efficient time use.


Arguments Against Daylight Saving Time

Here are some of the counterarguments against DST.

  1. Health impacts: The biannual clock changes can disrupt our circadian rhythms, leading to sleep deprivation. Studies link the transition to increased heart attacks, strokes and even depressive episodes, especially in the days following the change.
  2. Limited energy savings: While DST was initially introduced for energy conservation, the actual savings today are debated. Modern lifestyles and technology mean that any reduction in lighting costs might be offset by increased use of air conditioning and heating.
  3. Economic costs: The clock change can disrupt schedules, leading to decreased productivity. There can also be costs associated with updating computer systems, software and automated equipment to handle the switch.
  4. Safety concerns: While there may be fewer road accidents due to more daylight in the evening, the darker mornings can increase accidents, especially involving school children waiting for buses or walking to school.
  5. Agricultural disruption: Farm animals and crops often rely on sunlight rather than clocks. Changing the clock can disrupt farming routines, especially in regions where agriculture is vital.
  6. Complexity and confusion: Not all countries or regions within countries observe DST, leading to confusion in international scheduling for businesses, airlines and broadcasting.
  7. Lack of uniformity: Even within countries that observe DST, there can be regions or states that opt out, leading to further inconsistencies and potential scheduling conflicts.
  8. Natural lifestyle disruption: Critics argue that artificially shifting time disrupts our natural alignment with the sun's position, impacting our daily routines.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.


Daylight Saving Time FAQ

When did daylight savings time start in the U.S.?
In 1966, the U.S. decided that if states were going to observe daylight saving time, they should conform to a standard set of rules. These rules were contained in the Uniform Time Act, which set the beginning and ending of DST, as well as the time when the changeover should occur.
Why is there daylight saving time in the U.S.?
Advocates of daylight saving time have always pointed to energy conservation as the most important reason to move clocks forward during summer months. Having more daylight hours for at least half the year should reduce the amount of electricity we use for lighting and running TVs, computers and other electronics. Plus, it serves as an incentive for people to spend more time outdoors.
Does Europe have daylight saving time?
European nations have been taking advantage of daylight saving time for decades, but they didn't standardize it until 1996, when the European Union adopted a common DST schedule that runs from the last Sunday in March through the last Sunday in October.
Which states do not have daylight saving time?
Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and most of Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Indian Reservation) chose to be exempted from daylight saving time.
Who invented daylight saving time?
Benjamin Franklin is credited with first conceiving of daylight saving time in 1784 while serving as U.S. ambassador to France, but in reality, his proposition was largely in jest. The idea of modern DST was first proposed in 1895 by George Hudson, an entomologist from New Zealand.

Lots More Information

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  • Prerau, David. Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time. Thunder's Mouth Press. 2005.
  • Temescu, LeeAundra. "20 Things You Didn't Know About … Time." Discover Magazine. March 2009. (Sept. 29, 2011) http://discovermagazine.com/2009/mar/20-things-you-didn.t-know-about-time/?searchterm=daylight%20saving%20time
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