November 6 is officially the greatest day of the year because as Daylight Saving Time ends, we actually gain an hour -- and who doesn't need more time?
Yes, the days are getting shorter and you're probably waking up in darkness (and making your commute in it as well) -- but we gain an hour of sleep on Saturday night as Daylight Saving Time (DST) ends at 2 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 6 and Standard Time begins.
If it feels like we've been setting the clocks back later in the year than we used to, it's because we are.
When the U.S. Energy Policy Act went into effect in 2007, extended DST began. This meant we started turning our clocks back the first Sunday in November, rather than the last Sunday in October. Come springtime we'll also set the clocks ahead on the second Sunday in March, instead of the first Sunday in April.
Congress passed the law hoping it would save more energy, as longer days would mean people would need to use less electricity in their homes. But there are a number of conflicting reports as to how much energy is actually saved by extending daylight. Scientific American reports that in the 1970's, studies showed we nationally reduced our energy consumption by 1% through DST. Another report in 2008 from the U.S. Department of Energy concluded that the four extra weeks of daylight could conserve 1.3 trillion watt-hours each day. That's enough to power 100,000 homes for a whole year.
However, states like California have argued that energy savings from DST are negligible and asked Congress in 2001 for approval to remain on Standard Time year round. Congress never acted on the state's request due to the timing of the September 11 attacks, so California remains a participant in DST, according to the California Energy Commission.
Likewise, another study in 2008 found that in the state of Indiana, which only adopted DST in 2006, the time change was costing households an additional $8.6 million in electricity bills, reports The Wall Street Journal. The study found that the reduced cost of lighting in the afternoon was offset by the higher air-conditioning on hot afternoons and increased heating costs on colder mornings.
In the early 19th century, local municipalities set their own time, but the development of the railroad system required a standardization of time so that schedules could be published, reports National Geographic. The U.S. railroad industry established official time zones with a set standard time within each, and Congress signed the time zone system into law in 1918.
While the railroad may have precipitated the need for standardized time, it was actually Ben Franklin who can be credited with the concept of Daylight Saving Time. According to National Geographic, while working as an ambassador in Paris, France, Franklin found himself rising at 6 a.m. only to realize that the sun rose much earlier than he did. He imagined the resources that would be saved if only he and others woke before noon and didn't have to work long into the night.
But it wasn't until the first World War that the U.S. nationally instituted DST as a measure to preserve resources for the war effort. And it wasn't until 1966 that Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which standardized the start and end dates for Daylight Saving Time, while allowing certain states to remain on Standard Time year-round if their legislature permitted it.
States and territories like Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa don't need another hour of sunlight like the rest of the U.S., and therefore don't participate in DST.
(NOTE: The technical term for the occasion is Daylight Saving Time, although most people refer to it as Daylight Savings Time.)