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Daylight may be saved, but at what cost

In a children’s tale there was a city of fools. The people had a town hall with a roof covered of grass. They wanted to cut it. The roof was too high. The ladder was too short. They thought a lot and decided to cut a piece of the low end of the ladder and lengthen it to its top end.

Daylight saving time has become the official ritual of spring. We all advance our clocks forward, but much like the story, we look around and wonder: What have we gained?

In 1895, a New Zealand shift worker named George Hudson, who was an entomologist, broached the concept of shifting time to add more bug-collecting minutes to his day. Ten years later, the beau monde English builder and golfer William Willett expressed dismay that the working class did not rise earlier. Willett, wanting more daylight for his golf game, lobbied Parliament for Hudson’s time-shifting idea.

After World War I had begun, coal was scarce and the war economy was a priority. In April 1916, Germany shifted time to save coal. In May, Britain passed the Defence of the Realm Act and advanced their clocks. Less coal to heat homes boosted wartime production.

The Allies followed and daylight saving time was born. After the war it was repealed, then reinstated in the 1970s during the energy crisis.

Daylight saving time is supposed to save energy, but that is debatable. From Australia to the United States, peak loads and prices show increases. In Indiana, pre- and post-daylight saving time studies show residential electricity use rose from extra afternoon cooling, extra morning heating and increased pollution.

Health concerns have been connected with the spring forward, especially within the three days after the March time shift. People complain of headaches, sleepiness and confusion. Heart attacks increase up to 10 percent, stroke by 8 percent. The lost hour of sleep has been proven to decrease motor function, memory and mood. Traffic accidents rise 8 percent.

In the first few weeks after November’s fall back, suicides increase sharply.

Our day is driven by clocks. We start to work at a certain time. School bells ring for children. Then, each year the alarm is mandated to ring an hour earlier, shifting our internal clocks faster than nature intended.

Mother Nature adjusts our environment so our human circadian clock can adjust with the seasons, “with sleep and wake times slowly changing in response to the changing length and intensity of sunlight,” according to Shelby Harris of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center and an assistant professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“One hour may not seem extreme, but we can’t reset our circadian rhythms as easily as we change the time on the microwave. The human body does not readily or easily adapt to jarring changes in the alarm clock,” she wrote in a New York Times article.

As with Willett, the elite, bankers and big business are pro-daylight saving time. In the 1980s and 2007, the Daylight Saving Time Coalition funded primarily by convenience store and sporting goods associations ensured reinstatement of the bill.

Michael Downing of Tufts University states “Daylight saving is … a boon to purveyors of barbecue grills, sports and recreation equipment, and the petroleum industry, as gasoline consumption increases every time we increase the length of the daylight saving period.”

But for employees, mornings are darker, added stress comes from misaligned body clocks and associated health risks, and children go to school in the dark.

And the March time shift is bad for business. According to Till Roenneberg, a German chronobiologist, our circadian body clock (set by daylight and nighttime darkness) never adjusts to the gaining of an extra hour of sunlight, so we remain slightly off for the entire daylight saving time season.

“The consequence of daylight saving time is that the majority of the population has drastically decreased productivity, decreased quality of life, increasing susceptibility to illness, and is just plain tired.”

Workplace injuries increase in frequency and severity. On the Monday following the time shift, mining injuries spike nearly 6 percent and severity by 67 percent. And miners are not alone in their fatigue. Employees also tend to cyberloaf (use Internet access for nonwork-related activity) on cyberloaf Monday.

One study concludes that for every hour of interrupted sleep on daylight saving time Sunday, employees cyberloaf for 20 percent of their workday.

Perhaps we should realize Mother Nature does know what she is doing. My shamrock, prayer and red heart plants (plants that fold their leaves in the evening while they rest for the night — on Mother Nature’s time) all ignore man’s attempted manipulation of the environment. Unstressed, they are very healthy and blooming happy.

Cat Trico has been a resident of Boulder City since 2003 and is a past president of the Senior Center of Boulder City and co-founder of the Decker Lake Wetlands Preserve. As an author and editor, she contributed to “Rights, Responsibilities, and Relationships” for youth. She can be reached at cat.circa1623@gmail.com.

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