A Short History of Saving Time

Commentator S. Pearl Sharp breaks down the history of Daylight Saving Time and why it can be hazardous to your health. Sharp is writer, actress and filmmaker living in Los Angeles.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Here's a reminder to fall back. Daylight Savings Time begins at 2 a.m. on Sunday so be sure to turn your clocks back an hour. Some people cheer for a little more snuggle time but our commentator S. Pearl Sharp is not looking forward to that extra bit of sleep.

Mr. S. PEARL SHARP (Writer, Actress and Filmmaker): Oh no. Here we go again. Just as my body has gradually adjusting to darkness falling earlier, Daylight Saving Time yanks me into a rude and damaging leap forward or backward.

I am one of a growing number who think that Daylight Saving Time should be permanently ended. First, it messes with our work and home schedules. One fall, I forgot to set my clocks back on Saturday night. It was Tuesday before I realized why everyone else was showing up late when in fact, I had been an hour early for three days.

My major reason for wanting to end Daylight Saving Time or DST is that it's actually a hazard to your health. When you wake up on the first morning of the time change, the great computer god will have changed the clock on your computer. But your body does not know diddlysquat about DST. A higher power is in charge here. Our human processes operate on a rhythm with different functions such as the heartbeat and the body's temperature, keeping a fairly consistent rhythmic pattern.

In Eastern and African medicine, it's understood that each major organ has an hour or two in which it dominates. This mathematical biological wonder is often called the body clock. So for example, from 9 to 11 a.m., the spleen, which controls the production of red blood cells and fights infections, operates at its prime. Your lungs get up early, around 3 o'clock in the morning.

While different practices may express like time differences, there is an agreement on the process of the body clock. So this twice-yearly time shift throws us repeatedly out of sync. And it can take up to two months to adjust to that one-hour difference.

I spent the first three weeks to sew on a new schedule, trying to make my body pretend it's on the old schedule, and then I just give up.

Last summer, Congress took on this issue as part of the 2005 Energy Bill. But instead of eliminating DST, it was lengthened by one month starting in 2007. And again, the health of the American public was not considered.

Growing up, I was taught that Daylight Saving Time was initiated to help farmers have more natural light to complete their busy, busy days. Turns out, that's not true.

When Congress first initiated the plan in 1918, the purpose was to save energy during World War I. Now many farmers are pushing for an end to DST because it affects their livestock negatively. Apparently cows have body clocks too. And there is the perpetual confusion in places where the time change is not practiced. For example, Arizona doesn't use DST as a state. But the Navajo Indian Reservations inside the state do use it.

Daylight Savings Time is practiced in most of Europe, but not everywhere. So the airlines are also pushing to end the time shifts because of the way they affect international flight schedules. And I protest on the grounds that my health, your health, is at stake.

In a nation where almost one-third of the population is considered obese, and where a large percentage of workers are enclosed in buildings for eight to ten hours with artificial light, and chemically treated air, we need all the help we can get.

On behalf of our livers and kidneys and hearts, let's turn back the clock one last time and leave it right there.

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CHIDEYA: S. Pearl Sharp is a writer, actress and filmmaker living in Los Angeles. And don't forget to roll your clock back on Saturday night, and get some sleep.

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CHIDEYA: This is NPR News.

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