From Sunshine Protection to Burnout Prevention: Preserving Daylight Across the Seasons

“Don’t forget to set your clocks back!” is a phrase most Americans have grown accustomed to when daylight savings time (DST) hits. While many groan and complain about this seemingly trivial process, others delight in getting to wake up to the extra hour of sunshine. As DST continues, it receives more controversy each year. Many wonder how this archaic practice is still beneficial to modern society. Just recently, the US federal government proposed the Sunshine Protection Act, a bill that would make DST permanent so that the time would no longer change twice a year, and American society would operate under one standard time. 

Many people are in support of this bill as DST can cause disruption in the schedules and life balances of many Americans, including college students within the Tufts community. The Sunshine Protection Act provides unique benefits for these students. 

DST is a practice that began over 100 years ago when English constructor William Warnet proposed that the idea of daylight savings would prevent the British Government from wasting daylight. His idea was that DST would give more light in the daytime during working hours, allowing for laborers to have more energy and therefore be more productive. This idea continued to become popular until it was adopted by England following the end of World War I and several more countries, including the United States, in 1918. 

Today, DST continues to reinforce toxic notions of productivity and hustle culture through distorting daily schedules and limiting how we can practice self-care outside of work. Its very inception, rooted in the idea of productivity and maximizing labor, is just the first indication of this. Because Tufts is an elite university, many students are already under a large amount of pressure to be constantly productive to earn good grades, build strong resumes, and have successful careers. Low-income and first-generation students are also especially burdened by this, as they are dealing with added stressors of student loans, and for some, pressure from family members to work hard to receive high-paying jobs to provide for their families back home. 

The process of DST distorts students’ lifestyles when they are already balancing academics, extracurriculars, and jobs, as well as the looming pressures of internships and career paths. As a freshman this year, it has been difficult to adjust from having an organized day-to-day schedule to having lots of unstructured time which I have the sole responsibility of managing. Being at a smaller, liberal arts university like Tufts, the “girlboss” culture is definitely real. I often feel like I am putting a lot of pressure on myself to complete as many tasks as I can in order to maximize my time as much as possible. Having the sun set by 5pm, often when I am just getting out of class, can heighten these feelings, as it gives me the sense that I have less time in the day to get work done. When it becomes dark that much earlier, I feel a sense of shame that I have wasted time and not been as productive as I “should” have been during the day. 

  Additionally, DST limits the amount of downtime students have to spend outside and decompress. The time limit constrains students’ ability to practice self-care and make time for themselves outside of academics and work. Students who may be on work-study programs, hold off-campus jobs, or participate in research have even less free time they can prioritize and may not get to experience sunlight at all throughout the day. While one could argue that people can still exercise self-care indoors, there is a lot of value in being outside that we are losing due to daylight savings. Being out in fresh air and sunlight is a critical way that many students including myself can ground themselves amidst hectic schedules and feel connected to the present. 

In fact, spending time outside has been proven to increase our mental and physical health. A lack of exposure to sunlight can result in seasonal depression for many people, a phenomenon in which the brain responds to changes in daylight hours. The amount of daylight one receives affects melatonin and serotonin chemicals in the brain which influences mood and sleep cycles in an individual. This is why the loss of sunlight earlier in the day as a result of DST can be especially harmful. When students have less time to be in the sun and outdoors, they are more likely to feel tired and experience mood changes. Having darkness fall so early in the evening has been shown to increase levels of melatonin while decreasing levels of serotonin in the brain resulting in experiences of depression for many people. A research paper published in 2017 indicated an 11 percent increase in depressive episodes during the switch from daylight saving to standard time. 

The mood, sleep, and schedule changes associated with DST all work to exacerbate these pressures and emphasize a negative relationship to time and productivity. By continuing to practice DST, America enforces a negative prioritization of productivity over physical well-being which is passed down to younger generations. This emphasis on grind culture can result in students creating very high expectations for themselves and feelings of shame and failure when they are unable to meet these goals. Studies indicate that this ultimately results in people being less productive and leads to burnout. Even more worrisome, this can lead to serious mental health issues including anxiety and depression.  

These toxic relationships to work and productivity can also affect the way we see ourselves. When the work we produce becomes the marker of validation for us, our self-worth as human beings becomes intrinsically tied to the work we produce and our contributions to society rather than our qualities as individuals. 

Ultimately, the issue of DST raises an important question surrounding the kind of standards that are reinforced for college students regarding time and productivity. We need to critically examine the impact of grind culture in our society and the ways in which it affects our mental and physical health. 

There is a lot more that can be done at universities to lessen the strains of academia. For example, the government should ensure all universities are equipped with proper mental health and counseling services to improve student well-being. Within the Tufts community itself, Counseling and Mental Health Services can be expanded to account for seasonal depression, especially as it coincides with the busiest exam season for most students. 

In terms of academic workload, more networks of communication could be established between academic departments so that different disciplines can work with one another to ensure that big assessments and deadlines do not fall on similar dates. For example, there have been periods this semester where I have felt really overwhelmed by the amount of tests and projects I have that fall at the same time. Creating a system around this is a major way student stress levels could be minimized. This could be addressed through implementing more flexible timelines so that students can adjust assignment deadlines depending on their workload in other classes, rather than receiving late penalties or not being able to dedicate enough time to prepare for their different subjects. 

The administration can oversee actions such as these as a way to begin rethinking how hustle culture and toxic productivity are embedded in our academic institutions. Lastly, all of us as individuals have a part to play when it comes to dismantling grind culture for good. This can look like checking in with ourselves and others frequently on stress levels and physical well-being. Take breaks, go outside, spend time with friends, and most importantly remind yourself your value is not defined by the work you do. You can only be your most meaningful and authentic self when you put your well-being first and foremost.