Daylight Saving Time Is Hurting Our Health, Say Scientists

Messing with our clocks is messing with our circadian rhythms. frankieleon [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

Daylight saving time isn't just an arbitrary annoyance that makes you late to work on that first Monday, it might actually harm your health. A growing body of evidence suggests that messing with our external clocks is seriously disrupting our internal circadian ones, according to WebMD.

Everyone is ruled by a biological clock known as a circadian rhythm. Not everyone's rhythm is the same (for instance, some of us are morning larks and others are night owls), but all of our circadian rhythms are set by some degree relative to the presence or absence of daylight. So when we suddenly alter the hour that our alarms go off, it confuses our brains and bodies.

This confusion doesn't just result in a few extra yawns, it disturbs our hormonal balances. This can, in turn, result in measured increases in obesity rates, sleep disorders, diabetes, and can even lead to mental health issues. Productivity can also suffer.

"There is already evidence that students who have to go to school at 7:30 a.m. perform worse than matched peers who start at 8:30 a.m. because (it is thought) they are fighting their circadian rhythm," explained Gari Clifford, an expert on sleep disorders at Emory University in Atlanta. "Rather than forcing everyone to get up earlier, it may make more sense to make everyone get up later."

Furthermore, a study in the International Journal of Obesity found that unhealthy people tend to struggle to transition into daylight saving time more than healthy people do, suggesting that adjusting to the change expends our fitness on some level.

Let's all ride the same train

So what's the solution? According to a pair of researchers, economist Steve Hanke and astrophysicist Richard Conn, it might help to simply get rid of time zones altogether and put everyone in the world on the same time.

"As for daily life, nothing would change very much, except one big thing. Everyone in the world would be reading the same time on their watches at the same moment," explained Hanke. "So, if sunrise was at 6 a.m. in Atlanta on Eastern Standard Time, it would change to 11 a.m. GMT. So, people in Atlanta who normally rise at 6 a.m. would rise at 11 under this hypothetical."

The suggestion isn't all that radical. Airline pilots already live according to this principle, by following Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Of course, such a change might cause confusion at first, but once we all shifted to universal time, we wouldn't ever have to change our clocks again. This would make scheduling things much less confusing, but more importantly, it would enable us to return to our natural cycles without subjecting them to arbitrary conventions.