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Health

Permanent Standard Time Could Save Lives, Explained By A Sleep Expert

Every year, it is spring forward in the spring and it is fall back in the fall in the U.S., which then starts the bi-annual debate over whether the U.S. should pick one time and stick to it. The transition from standard time to daylight saving time is not only annoying to some people, but can have detrimental effects on everyone.

To combat this yearly quagmire event, the U.S. Senate approved a bill called the Sunshine Protection Act, which aims to make daylight saving time permanent beginning in 2023. While still waiting for the bill to go to the House and the President, we continue to participate in daylight savings time.

“Shifting back and forth between times has been associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and motor vehicle crashes — especially in the spring,” says Charles Czeisler, chief of the Division of Sleep And Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Sticking with just one standard time could cut down on these effects and increase productivity. But Czeisler warned that there’s a problem with the Senate’s legislation: It settles on the wrong time.

Apparently, a permanent daylight saving time would move everyone in the U.S. one timezone eastward. So, for example, people in California would move to Mountain Time, and people on the East Coast would shift to Atlantic Time.

“There’s extensive research that being on the western edge of a time zone increases the risk of multiple different cancers,” Czeisler says. “A time zone is 15 degrees wide, and every five degrees that an individual lives westward within a time zone increases the risk of certain types of cancers in a startlingly high manner.”

Research shows liver cancer risk increased by 11% for every five degrees westward in a time zone a person lived — so the risk could increase by 30% if everyone moved one-time zone east, he says. Breast cancer increased by 5% for every five degrees west, which could result in a 15% increase in risk under permanent daylight saving time.

Czeisler explained that the body’s circadian clock controls the timing of various physiological functions, such as the release of melatonin. On top of promoting sleep, the hormone slows down the growth of cancer.

A permanent daylight saving time would require everyone to wake up an hour earlier relative to the time the sun rises. Since most discussions revolve around the extra light in the evening, it overlooks some of the downsides.

“We may think that we’re not affected by the solar environment in which we live, but the brightness of the sun outdoors is much more powerful than any of the indoor lights that we have,” he says. “And it still elicits a strong effect on the body.”

One of the myths associated with keeping daylight savings time is that farmers wanted it. Actually, farmers advocated against it because the yearly change would mess with the natural circadian rhythms of their cattle.

Another myth is that daylight saving time saves energy, which is not true. Arizona made standard time permanent in part because daylight saving time ended up causing increased energy use from air conditioners, Czeisler says.

While the U.S. has switched to permanent daylight saving time in the past, once during the 1970s energy crisis and once during World War II, both instances ended with a return to standard time.

“Maintaining a consistent bedtime and a consistent wake time help stabilize our internal circadian rhythms and keep them in sync with the 24-hour day,” he says. “And that’s one of the reasons why it’s important to avoid the kinds of shifts that are associated with shifting our time zones. “

In the event the U.S does adopt permanent daylight saving time, Czeisler expects that people won’t want to wake up an hour earlier every day. To make up for their lost time during the week, they may sleep later on the weekends, which will increase what’s called social jetlag and chronic sleep deprivation.

“That’s going to propel their circadian systems to a later hour,” he says, “and make it more difficult for them to go to sleep at a time that is sufficient for them to get enough sleep before the alarm clock is going to go off in the morning.”

 

 
 
 
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Written By

Tim holds an electronics engineering degree and is working toward a second degree in IT/web development. He enjoys renewable energy topics and has a passion for the environment. He is a part-time writer and web developer, full time husband and father.

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