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Chasing the Light

Science and nature collide in daylight savings and spring.

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Sunday Morning / March 10, 2024

Nearly 40% of the world are turning their clocks forward an hour but maybe for the last time. This Fall Back/Spring Forward business could soon be a thing of the past.

The U.S. Senate has passed the Sunshine Protection Act that'll make daylight saving time permanent across the nation. The House has yet to advance the bill out of committee. Likewise, the European Parliament proposed removing daylight saving time altogether across the EU, but the initiative presents challenges for transportation and has yet to be implemented. At the cortex of the debate about clocks lies some science.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) says the U.S. and Europe should adopt permanent standard time pursuant to their public’s overall health and safety. They observe, correctly, that seasonal time changes cause a misalignment between man and the universe which can result in dangerous health and safety consequences, including: an increase in stroke and hospital admissions; cardiovascular events, and mood disturbances.

Moreover, the AASM reminds us that we've heard this debate before. In 1973, the United States instituted a permanent day light saving routine that objectively failed. It was repealed the following year.

While the United States and Europe continue to turn their clocks forward, it was Great Britain who led the crusade in 1847 when they replaced Greenwich Mean with Railway Time

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In 1883, the United States followed suit with a five-zone system to connect the burgeoning American railways. Based on a telegraph signal from the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh at exactly noon on the 90th meridian, the 1918 Standard Time Act established standard time and officially introduced daylight savings. (DST).

Circadian Cycle

Over the past 100 years, a common theme among researchers of varying backgrounds is that changing clocks causes longterm negative effects.

Opponents of the Sunshine Protection Act argue permanent standard time would be more beneficial to health and human welfare. Numerous health specialists, safety experts, and research societies consider permanent standard time better for health, safety, schools, and the economy. Thats because standard time aligns with the natural circadian cycle.

The circadian clock’s primary function is to rhythmically coordinate biological processes so they occur at the correct time to optimize the fitness and performance. Circadian rhythms have evolved independently in animal, plant and man's kingdoms of life. "Clocks slay time..." William Faulkner wrote, " time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life."

The AASM agrees. "Syncing our circadian clock to daily routines contributes to safer morning commutes, improved student welfare, religious practices (Orthodox Judaism, Islam), increased exposure to healthy morning sunlight, and higher productivity and wages." They continue.

Conversely, hundreds of scientific studies show that disrupting the circadian clocks leads to increased rates of heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, obesity, depression, substance abuse and suicide.

Fact: Morning sunlight, the body’s most potent time-setting cue, tethers human beings to the Earth’s 24-hour day/night cycle. Exposure to sunlight soon after we awaken governs inner clocks that control our sleep, attention, mood, body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, hunger, cell division and hundreds of other bodily functions.

When human beings shift to daylight saving time their morning light exposure drops; biological clocks fall out of sync; we pay a price. Daylight Saving time’s lighter, longer evenings are good for commerce but keep us up longer, spending and engaged so we get to bed later and sleep less; making it difficult and feel impossible to rise with the sun.

Spring Forward

The idea of aligning waking hours to daylight hours was first proposed in 1784 by the American polymath Benjamin Franklin. He writes to the editor of the Journal de Paris:

Let a tax be laid of a louis [gold coin] per window, on every window that is provided with shutters to keep out the light of the sun.

Franklin later confessed the article was a gimmick, and warning to Parisians of technology's imminent effects of technology on everyday life.

While industrialized societies rely on clocks to get to work, go to school and coordinate their social lives, agrarian society's daily routines for work and personal conduct were always governed by the light, solar time, and the Earth's natural seasons and axial tilt.

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When Franklin created the lightning hypothesis, and calculated the discovery of electricity, he was concerned "electricity could create modern conveniences that could lead to apathy in an industrialized society."

Still, over 60% of the world demurs: doesn't change their clocks; rises with the sun; and aligns their circadian rhythms with nature — a tacit agreement, between the routines of subsistence and the purpose of existence.

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