Last Sunday, we all gained a beautiful extra hour of sleep due to Daylight Saving Time (DST), but we also lost a few extra hours of sunlight in the evening. Summer DST is great because it stays bright so late, but DST in the winter is awful because it gets dark so early. It got me thinking — we do this twice a year, but what is the actual reason? According to research, the main reason we set the clocks behind or ahead is to conserve energy. According to webexibits.org, “The rationale behind the 1975 study of DST-related energy savings was that energy use and the demand for electricity for lighting homes is directly related to the times when people go to bed at night and rise in the morning. In the average home, 25 percent of electricity was used for lighting and small appliances, such as TV’s and stereos. A good percentage of energy consumed by lighting and appliances occurred in the evening when families were home. By moving the clock ahead one hour, the amount of electricity consumed each day decreased.”  I can see that making sense for summer DST, but doesn’t doing it right before winter have the opposite effect? It gets dark by about 4:00 p.m., which means I need to keep on many more lights than I would if it were still bright outside and crank up the heat. More energy is being put to use and people’s moods are becoming affected. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a depression brought on by changes in the seasons. It is known as winter depression. SAD is most common in people who live far from the equator, because that is where winter daylight hours are the shortest. While experts remain uncertain as to what exactly it is that causes SAD, lack of sunlight is considered to be the best answer. It upsets one’s biological clock, which controls sleeping patterns and causes problems with serotonin levels, which affect happiness. The primary treatment for the disorder is light therapy. There are special light bulbs that are ten times stronger than ordinary bulbs. 

Special boxes are made for these bulbs so that people with SAD can sit in front of the light for a certain amount of time per day — this replaces the bright light we would normally see in the summer. Do we really save enough energy in the summer through DST to justify using so much more in the winter? Is it even worth it when it is the known cause of a depression disorder? Personally, I’d rather have it stay as bright as it is in summer all year long.

 

Rebecca Falk can  be contacted at rfalk@keene-equinox.com