See the light and ditch daylight saving

Someone once said “only a fool would think that cutting off 2 inches on one end of a blanket and sewing it onto the other end would make it longer”. Something close to that anyway. The point being, daylight saving does not add any daylight to the day. To do that, we’d need to slow the rotation of the earth. Perhaps Elon Musk could work on that. For now, the planet rotates once every 24 hours.

Earth does have a bit of a tilt to it, which causes the amount of light and dark within the 24-hour day to change over the year when you live away from the equator. This means more daylight in the summer and less in the winter for much of the world. Nearly everyone prefers summer to winter.

Daylight saving does not add any extra daylight to the day. Credit:AP

Humans like light. We like it a lot. Work published from my lab has shown that the more daylight we get, the happier we are and the better we sleep. My group has also shown that light suppresses the activity of the amygdala, an area of the brain involved in fear and negative emotion. This research also showed that light appears to allow us to control our emotions better. It is no wonder that we refer to optimism and positivity as “looking on the bright side” and negative mood as “darkness”.

You may be thinking, “So why not change the clocks so that we get more light in the evening all year long? Don’t most of us wake after dawn anyway?” In the summer, probably yes. In the winter, no. If you move to permanent daylight saving time, the fact that it is a terrible idea will be very clear in the winter, when you must wake up to go to work or school before dawn.

Most people have the experience of getting up at 4am – 5am to catch an early flight. It feels awful, wrong. How would you feel about doing that every day for half the year? Moving to permanent daylight saving time has happened before. It then gets changed back. Do we need to make the mistake again?

You may also be thinking “Let’s stop this foolish twice-yearly time change.” I get the frustration with changing the time and there is certainly evidence that it isn’t good for us, especially when it means we all lose an hour of sleep on the same day. When the US Senate recently (and in unusually quick fashion) decided the country should be on permanent daylight saving time, Americans had just gone through the time change. It seems like a sleep-deprived Senate may have made a rash, poorly thought-out decision … something we have all done when we need more sleep.

It doesn’t matter what time we say it is, our bodies align their daily rhythms with the sun.Credit:Istock

These twice-yearly clock changes are not good for us and are pretty annoying. But it’s permanent standard time that is the right choice. Permanent daylight saving time is the worst choice (worse than keeping the annoying time changes). Why? Because our bodies don’t care what time we say it is. Our bodies align their timing and daily rhythms with the sun.

We have tiny clocks in the brain and throughout pretty much all the tissues of our body. These clocks tell you when to work hard, when to repair, when to digest, and everything else that’s different at different times of day. On standard time, our behaviour is aligned with our bodies. On daylight saving time, it is slightly out of alignment, similar to having a perpetual small amount of jet lag.

It’s hard to make a case with people for something called “standard time”. It’s even worse in the UK, where it’s often referred to as “winter time”. Try asking people if they’d like permanent winter time! It’s also hard to convince people to lose that “extra” hour of light at the end of the day in the summer.

People like having more daylight at the end of the day after work. People also like drugs and alcohol, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for you. I think we should not fight against what out bodies want: bright days, dark nights, and properly timed. Let’s push for permanent standard time.

Sean Cain PhD is a circadian biologist, president of the Australasian Chronobiology Society, and an associate professor of psychology at Monash University.

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