Early Birds, Night Owls, And Why Do We Have Daylight Saving Time?

Early Birds, Night Owls, And Why Do We Have Daylight Saving Time?

It is after midnight, and I am writing the first draft of this week’s blog post. The imminent change to our clocks on Sunday morning has me thinking about time, our natural sleep and wake cycles, and how changes to our routines affect everything we do.

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The world seems to be divided into two main groups, Early Birds and Night Owls. This is based on the 20,000 nerve cells in our brains that set our “master clock”, also called our chronotype. As a natural Night Owl, I see great advantages in this approach to being awake. It is very quiet late at night, and I do my best thinking under those conditions. Even if I feel sleepy early in the evening, at around 10 pm, I get my second wind. That usually leads to staying up until the wee hours of the morning doing things I like to do- read a good book, watch a favorite movie, or write blog posts. This happened when I was still working, and usually made me fairly tired when the alarm went off in the morning. But as a retired person, it has worked out quite well. I never make appointments in the morning, so I can stay up as late as I want, and sleep in as late I choose to as well. I am convinced this is my natural circadian rhythm because I feel most relaxed and rested when following this schedule. For my fellow Night Owls who read the blog- I see you, and you are my people. Hopefully the world appreciates our round the clock vigilance in case an emergency arises at night. We are at the ready, and will inform the rest of the world.

The only time I get up early enough to see the sunrise ( or as we Night Owls say, what is that giant yellow brightness in the sky?) is if I have an early flight that has been booked to save money. Some airlines even have planes that depart at 6 am from our fair city. With a flight that early, which requires arriving at the airport by 4, I usually just stay up all night. Much easier. On my way to the airport I have frequently seen Early Birds who are leaving for work, and even some who are happily jogging around the neighborhood. Those are Super Early Birds to me- people who not only like early morning hours, but also accomplish important things.

So we all have our natural sleep and wake cycles, and adapt them as we work and raise families. Small children present unique challenges with schedules because getting the little cherubs to bed at a reasonable time, and hoping they don’t get up too early, is a never ending thing. I remember after baths, stories, and getting everyone down for the night, sitting on the couch and enjoying the silence, usually with a bowl of ice cream. These plans were upended two times a year with the arrival of Daylight Saving Time (DST). Just when you had it down, you were gaining or losing an hour and wreaking havoc with your carefully crafted home life. The Spring Forward rule was the worst, but Fall Back had its disadvantages too. And since this is a DST weekend, it made me wonder yet again why do we do this?

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A little research reveals it started in the US in 1918, ostensibly to make better use of daylight and save energy during wartime. Moving clocks ahead one hour in the spring was supposed to save energy and give people an extra hour of sunlight in the evening to be outside, attend events and not use artificial light. Urban areas liked it because people were spending more money, but rural areas opposed it because their work had to be done no matter what time the clock said it was. And since 1918, DST has remained a controversial idea. Various laws have been passed to make it uniform and applicable in every state, but there has always been at least one state, Arizona, that chooses not to do it. But it would be difficult to find a state that has struggled more with this than Indiana. Over the past 100 years, they have passed several laws about DST, only to repeal them a year or two later. At one time, twelve counties in the state were on Central Time and followed DST, but the remaining eighty counties were on Eastern Time year round, without DST. Finally, in 2006, all counties were expected to follow DST. Good grief.

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From my perspective, gaining an hour of sleep in the fall is ok. The daylight part of the whole process is wasted on me, but I wholeheartedly support an extra hour of sleep. Fall is a nice season in the Midwest, with changing leaves and crisp, cool temperatures. Time for football games, hayrack rides and haunted houses. I don’t remember the fall time change being as hard to manage with small kids as the spring one, but I do recall some homecoming weekends during the high school years that coincided with the extra hour. Since the time changed at 2 am to 3 am, that seemed like a good time to come home from the after party to me. As the person who waited up for the teenagers to come home, the arrival time was relevant, even for a Night Owl parent.

So on we go with another round of saving daylight. Some of my devices will automatically update, and some will require manual assistance. Most notably my car, and that one will take several attempts because I only do it twice a year. I will start the car, back out of the garage, and sit in the driveway. Then I start with settings, and keep pushing buttons until something about the clock pops up. The next step is to fumble around until I remember how to change the time. But it will all be worth it, because I have an extra hour of daylight to figure it out. And I’m retired, so there’s no rush!