As those in the US had to come to terms with the timezone shuffle once again this week, the “Why do we do daylight saving anyway?” discussion reared its inevitable head, as it does every year.
But recently, the discussion has been a bit different, because scientists are finding more and more evidence to suggest that our health is suffering because of it.
Put simply – our bodies don’t know what hour it is, they don’t know what day it is. They’re ruled by an internal biological, or circadian, clock that’s ruled by the presence and absence of daylight.
When daylight hits, we receive a dose of hormones to wake us up, when it gets dark, our bodies produce hormones to calm us down and make us sleepy. When we ignore that very basic mechanism, and force our bodies to function according to arbitrary times, we’re risking our health, researchers are finding.
“There is already evidence that students who have to go to school at 7.30 am perform worse than matched peers who start at 8.30 am because (it is thought) they are fighting their circadian rhythm,” Gari Clifford, an expert on sleep disorders at Emory University in the US, told Ralitsa Vassileva at CNN.
“Rather than forcing everyone to get up earlier, it may make more sense to make everyone get up later.”
And a study that came out in 2015 found that unhealthy people tend to struggle through the transition into daylight saving worse than their healthier counterparts. And the real kicker is it’s all completely arbitrary anyway.
The global time zones we currently set our lives to were first set up at the Meridian Conference in 1883. In an effort to reconcile the literally hundreds of different time zones adhered to around the world, says Vassileva, “nations agreed to have 24 time zones, each one 15 degrees wide, based on the Greenwich Meridian in London.”
But is it time to think about reducing the number of timezones further? What about if we all just lived according to a single universal time zone, like pilots do? We’d still get up in the morning, go to work, and go to bed at night, but we’d all be living off the same clocks.
“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,” applied economist Steve H. Hanke, from the Johns Hopkins University in the US, told Vassileva at CNN.
“So, if sunrise was at 6 am in Atlanta on Eastern Standard Time, it would change to 11 am GMT. So, people in Atlanta who normally rise at 6am would rise at 11 under this hypothetical.”
Hanke is not stranger to radical ideas about how we handle time. Together with astrophysicist Richard Conn Henry from Johns Hopkins, he’s proposed a new type of calendar that remains exactly the same, year in year out, forever. Imagine it – every Christmas for the rest of time falls on a Sunday. Your birthday will always be on a Tuesday.
The calendar we use today is about 400 years old – an iteration devised by Pope Gregory in 1582, based on the one instituted by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.
Now, using computer models and mathematical formulae, Henry and Henke have come up with the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, in which every specific date of each month would fall on the same day of the week every year.
So the 1st of June might always be a Monday, for example. There would be no leap years and no arbitrary 30 or 31-day months. Instead, September, June, March and December would all have 31 days, and the rest would have 30, and it works according to a precise formula – a predictable 91-day quarterly pattern of two months of 30 days, a third month of 31 days, rinse and repeat.
“Our plan offers a stable calendar that is absolutely identical from year to year and which allows the permanent, rational planning of annual activities, from school to work holidays,” Henry says in a press release.
“Think about how much time and effort are expended each year in redesigning the calendar of every single organisation in the world and it becomes obvious that our calendar would make life much simpler and would have noteworthy benefits.”
And we’re not just talking about hoping public holidays always fall on a Friday so we can have a long weekend. The team says there’s a serious economic benefit to fixing our calendars.
“Our calendar would simplify financial calculations and eliminate what we call the ‘rip off’ factor,” says Hanke.
“Determining how much interest accrues on mortgages, bonds, forward rate agreements, swaps and others, day counts are required. Our current calendar is full of anomalies that have led to the establishment of a wide range of conventions that attempt to simplify interest calculations.”
It’s making our brains hurt just thinking about how all of this could work. But it’s definitely the good kind of hurt.