Let's fall back and stay back: In defense of Standard Time, the best time of the year

The clock is ticking toward permanent Daylight Saving Time, and some of us aren't happy about it

By Erin Keane

Chief Content Officer

Published November 3, 2022 12:00PM (EDT)

Autumn Alarm Clock Daylight Savings, concept (Getty Images/IgorBukhlin)
Autumn Alarm Clock Daylight Savings, concept (Getty Images/IgorBukhlin)

It's dark and chillier in the morning these days when I shake my little dog awake, dress her in her absurd purple coat, and prod her out the door for her first walk of the day. Later, during our after-work stroll, the sun is just starting to set through the sparse golden leaves on the tree in the front yard. It's fall! Pull on your mittens and grab your pumpkin spice and a map to Stars Freakin' Hollow! Everyone loves autumn, right? Until the first week in November when suddenly it's all, wait just one minute, oh, I would like to speak to the manager about the time.

As we prepare to roll the clocks back and end another year's Daylight Saving Time, the grumbling about the dark has already started. A majority of Americans seem to be banking a lot on the promise of how much better life would be if we were not planning on setting the clocks back to Standard Time on November 6. An hour more daylight in the fall and winter evenings would, apparently, cure all our mood issues and, because this is America, make us all more money. I get it. The time change itself sucks. The adjustment period is brutal and can even be dangerous; we all hate it. I'm fully on board with abolishing the practice of time change. But so many people are wrong about what time we should land on. Don't I love daylight? I do! In the spring and summer, where it belongs. 

"Standard time most closely approximates natural light, with the sun directly overhead at or near noon," actual professor of neurology Beth Ann Malow explains. And while there's a lot of "natural" I'll take a pass on — give me all the vaccines, water purification, and hair dye — I do prefer, when I look for it, to find the sun where it belongs. 

We manipulate time enough already. Linger long enough on the border of a time zone and they begin to feel suspiciously arbitrary. By any reasonable assessment of the sun in the sky, I should be writing this from Central Time, not Eastern — but good thing I'm not, because Central Time has the most unsettling vibes of the American time zones. (The best time zone? Mountain Time, clearly some kind of magical vortex!) In the height of summer, it isn't fully dark on my block until almost 9:30 p.m. That's just weird.

I'm not saying let's do away with time zones and leap years and go completely au naturel. I can understand the desire, if we're already bending ourselves around a human-made framework to make transportation and commerce and daily life work, to simply continue to shape time and reality around human preferences rather than, say, what the sky ought to look like at 5 p.m. in December. That doesn't mean we all have to pretend to like it.

A quick recap of Daylight Saving Time and how we got here, courtesy of Ramsey Touchberry's reporting on the bipartisan effort to abolish changing our clocks twice a year: 

Daylight saving time (DST) currently lasts from March to November in most states. (Arizona and Hawaii never change their clocks). Its origins dates back to World War I as a wartime effort to conserve fuel; in fact, it was first implemented in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, foes of the U.S. and its allies in that conflict. DST was originally opposed by the agricultural industry, contrary to the popular belief that it was created for the benefit of farm families. Although virtually all nations in Europe and North America practice the biannual clock switch, the vast majority of countries in Asia, Africa, South America and Oceania have either abandoned DST in recent years or never used it at all.

Earlier this year the Senate did pass a bill to abolish the time change. If it is signed into law — which might take a while, because the House left them on read — then in March, we would spring forward and stay that way.

I protest. If we're going to do this, we should do it right. And the right way is to fall back permanently.

I'm aware this is not the most popular stance, but I'm also not alone. Hawaii and Arizona get it. About one-third of Americans prefer Standard Time, according to a recent CBS News poll. We walk among you daylight grumblers, and frankly, we've been getting the shaft. The most common complaint I hear when I celebrate the start of Standard Time is a variation of "so, you think it should be pitch-black outside at 4 p.m.?" as if we lived through a Westeros-style long winter in the pre-DST era. The days will continue to get longer after the winter solstice, I'm pretty sure of it.

We'd rather literally reorient society's clock than take stronger measures toward improving road safety and access to mass transit.

Admitting you're a Standard Time fan on the internet is like admitting you're an extrovert; both confessions are met with suspicion. But it's ridiculous that some of us only get four months of that productivity and energy out of the year. Once upon a time, we at least split the year a bit more fairly. But over time, Big Daylight won, and we've been on this eight-four split for a while now. Listen, I get it. Rise and grind! It's already late! Progress ahead! What's more American than trying to get a jump on the clock itself? But Standard Time is what time it's supposed to be, even if we only admit it four months out of the year. 

I am not an unreasonable person. There are solid, sensible reasons for "saving daylight," like for women who feel much safer going for an after-work run when it's not pitch-dark outside. I'm sympathetic to folks who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter (though some people do experience it in the summer months instead). Are there really energy-saving benefits? Well... studies say it's a wash. But all darkness is not equal, apparently, when it comes to road safety, because the after-work drive is apparently much riskier than the morning commute — taking rogue deer into account, it's even worse — and an extra hour of light during rush hour could help cut down car accidents. It doesn't escape notice, though, that we'd rather literally reorient society's clock than take stronger measures toward improving road safety and access to mass transit.

Some science, though, is on my side. Our brains house an internal clock (the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN) which, as Anisha Kalidindi writes, "can sync time throughout the body through hormonal and chemical signals" to regulate "many bodily processes that we know are important for health, such as our sleep-wake cycles, and ... the physiology of our body in several ways, from our liver function to our immune system." One of the most important elements that regulate our SCN is light. And light disruption such as the manipulation of Daylight Saving Time, Kalidindi writes, "can have catastrophic effects" on our biological clocks.

But enough of the technicalities! I fully understand why I react the way I do to the time change: Standard time just feels right to some of us, and the closer we get to the fall-back hour, the more my brain chafes against the time I've been pretending it is. In late fall and all through winter, I want dark evenings to be lit by flickering candles and twinkly holiday lights (which we should, of course, leave up until Valentine's Day). I do not want to trick myself into thinking I should feel more productive near the end of a winter's day. I want to hit the morning running and then later, hygge it up inside, or bundle up and walk through the frost. I want to appreciate the seasons for what they are, not for what I wish them to be.

If the House gets behind the Senate's bill, this could be my last year of Standard Time. If so, I need to make the most of it. Time to start getting up early to write a new book proposal and work out as much of a rough draft as I can before the clock catches up to me in March, so I can properly take advantage of my soft, cozy evenings. I plan on falling into a warm bed at a decent hour instead of staying up to doomscroll against my better judgment. The light will return anyway, slowly, a little bit at a time, starting in late December. It always does. This year I'm going to pay closer attention, knowing a November six o'clock may never look the same again.

By Erin Keane

Erin Keane is Salon's Chief Content Officer. She is also on faculty at the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University and her memoir in essays, "Runaway: Notes on the Myths That Made Me," was named one of NPR's Books We Loved In 2022.

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Biology Circadian Rhythms Commentary Daylight Saving Time Fall Standard Time Time Zones