Of Clocks and Circadian Rhythms

Feeling a little sluggish this morning? Confused? Not quite right? Join the millions of people around the globe who feel exactly the same way. All because we keep giving in to the crazy notion of changing the time twice every year.

Yes, it’s going to be wonderful this afternoon when there’s still enough light to stroll around the block or do a little yard work or slap some burgers on the grill.
It’s been a long, gray winter, especially for those of us who live at the eastern edge of the Central time zone. So who can argue with the idea of springing forward?

I can.

First with a gentle reminder that we haven’t all of a sudden gained an extra hour of daylight. Few of us probably noticed back on December 22, when the winter
solstice was finally in the rear view mirror, that the nights began getting shorter
and the days longer. The bustle of the holidays tends to get in the way of paying attention to such things, particularly when they happen so gradually.  Daylight Saving Time hasn’t added even a nanosecond to our amount of daylight. All it has done is change what we call the hour when the sun rises and when it sets.

There are lots of reasons not to embrace DST. During the first couple of weeks after the change-over, the rate of heart attacks spikes. Ditto with car wrecks and
headaches and workplace accidents.

And think how nice it would be not to have to re-set your watch. Or the clocks on the stove, microwave oven, coffeemaker, bedside table, bathroom wall, and car. (Though I must confess that I seldom reset the clock it my car. It’s just too darn
complicated. I used to have a Honda with an “H” button for “hour” and an “M”
button for “minute” that I could program in a jiffy. To reset the clock in my Mustang, I have to pull out the owner’s manual and follow a complicated,
multi-step process. Which might or might not work. Not worth it. I’ve just come
to accept that, for several months each year, the clock will be off by an hour.)

The time change is apparently super-stressful for computer code writers who must make sure that software relied upon by banks and stock exchanges and airlines and utility providers and a whole slew of other essential industry converts to the correct time exactly when it’s supposed to.

Worst of all is how going on and off DST every few months affects our circadian rhythms, the internal body clock that times the release of hormones that help us sleep and wake up and that regulate metabolism and body temperature.

If the United States abolished Daylight Saving Time, Arizona and Hawaii—neither of which observe it—would be back in sync with the rest of the nation. The nation would also be more in sync with the rest of the world. Though most of North America and Europe observe DST, the great majority of countries in South America, Asia and Africa do not. Which is bound to complicate international business, methinks.

And I don’t even want to talk about how Daylight Saving Time confuses the poor dairy cows.

So here’s an idea. Let today be the last time we ever spring forward. We’ve shifted an hour of light from morning to afternoon.  Now let’s leave it there. Don’t fall back the first Sunday in November. Never change our clocks again. Abolish the term “Daylight Saving Time.” Let’s marvel at how the earth moves in relation to the sun. Let’s notice and relish the shortest day of the year on December 21 and the longest on June 21. Let’s celebrate the vernal and
autumnal equinoxes, when day and night are exactly the same length.

And let’s vow to quit messing with Mother Nature.

(March 10, 2013)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *