Or “The Circadian Rhythm and Blues”

Originally written for the old VicMachin blog (24th October 2010)
I’ve thought for a long time that putting the clocks back or forward at certain times of the year not only serves little practical purpose, but also has a detrimental affect on your health. When I was growing up, I was led to believe that we change the clocks for the farmers, so that they have an extra hour of daylight to work in. As I grew up, I started to question the logic: farmers wake up at day-break don’t they – so their alarm clocks need changing by two minutes or so every day! Then someone told me that it was because children wouldn’t have to walk to school in the dark: the problem with this theory is that they DO have to walk home in the dark when winter reaches its peak (it’s dark by 4.30pm in the UK in late December).
I was surprised when I moved to Spain to discover that the daylight savings time is not some uniquely British quirk – they do it all over the EU. Well, apparently, this has happened since the fuel crisis of 1974 – and supposedly saves Europe 60 million each year because people don’t have to turn their lights on in the morning. This explanation makes more sense to me, but it doesn’t help US very much, does it? We’re still being charged the same for our electricity in the winter as we are in the summer – why aren’t we refunded some of that 60 million each winter? In fact, if you REALLY want people to save electricity, give them a rebate for every day that they don’t switch their lights on before a certain time.
So what of my other point – that it’s actually bad for our health? I’ve joked before about being jetlagged the week after putting the clocks forward or back, but it turns out I was right! In an article I read on this subject (published, surprisingly, in a Spanish gossip-magazine) it states that 30-40% of the population experience some level of increase in stress, tiredness, insomnia, etc: typical jetlag symptoms.
I’ll now explain why it screws so badly with our body clock. When I moved to Spain, it took me several months to get used to the times that they eat – especially having to wait until 2pm for lunch. I wondered why the Spanish would want to wait until 2 for lunch – and was even more confused when I found out that in Portugal, they eat at 1pm! The explanation, though, is simple. Spain is west of Britain, but uses Central European Time, which is set for Berlin. So the time when the sun is highest in the sky (midday), occurs around 2pm. Portugal uses Greenwich Meantime (same time-zone as Britain), but because Portugal is physically further west than Britain, their watches are reading 1pm by the time the sun is at its highest. In fact, many Spaniards refer to midday (mediodía) when they mean 2pm; a situation I still find weird – when I was still a clock-watching Brit in Britain, I used to answer the phone ‘good morning’, and if I realised it was actually 12:01, would correct myself and say ‘good afternoon’!
Anyway, all of this means that if we all eat lunch when the sun is overhead during the summer (regardless of what our watch says!), then when winter arrives, Brits should eat lunch at 11am, Portuguese at 12pm, and Spaniards at 1pm. BUT WE DON’T! During the winter, we allow our clocks to override nature and dictate our times for eating and sleeping as well as just going to work.
In conclusion: The only ones who actually benefit from the Daylight Savings Scam are (as always) the owners of major corporations (selling us electricity we’re not using, or drugs for illnesses we wouldn’t have caught if our immune systems weren’t so beaten), or the psychologists treating people for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and other winter-related stress and depression which is caused by something as simple as meddling with your watch twice a year.
What to do? Don’t change your watch – change your timetable. Tell your boss that during the winter, you’ll be working 8-4 on your watch (it’ll still be 9-5 on his, so he won’t care!), and realise that the clock on your wrist is not as important (or even as accurate) as the one in your body. Trust your Circadian Rhythms (remember, it took millions of years to evolve body clocks to the level they are now, but only 150 years of clock-watching to fuck it up!), and END DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME!
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