Daylight Saving Time (DST) is making people unhealthier and costing our economies billions, a group of scientists have said.
The academics argued against DST in a statement to the European Parliament, ahead of many time zones going an hour a head in the early hours of this Sunday.
In a paper prepared for MEPs this week, they said that advancing the clock for half of the year worsened “social jet lag” – defined as the time between when you would naturally wake up and the time you are obliged to wake up – and this increases the likelihood of diabetes or obesity because our body’s metabolism is out of sync.
They also said accidents and heart attacks increase in the days after a changeover.
The academics, who came from universities in Germany, France, the UK, The Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Hungary, estimated this costs the European Union 131 billion euros a year in health costs.
“Our biological clocks are synchronised using the timing and amount of light and darkness – not the alarm clock,” their statement, which was presented to a European Parliament hearing, said.
“As a result our biology does not respond to DST changes. Rather, with the spring DST, we simply have to go to work an hour earlier relative to our biological clock. We are adding an extra hour of social jet lag to the European population.”
Prof Till Roenneberg, from the Ludwig Maximillian University of Munich, told The Huffington Post UK that he believed the actual cost to the EU economy was higher than estimated because 131 billion euros stemmed from a study that did not take account of all the potential health problems.
He said every hour of social jetlag boosted a person’s likelihood of becoming obese by 33%. He told HuffPost: “We know, with social jet lag, you get metabolic problems. You become too fat because you metabolise differently… You are more likely to develop diabetes type 2.”
He added: “You have an internal clock that’s optimised to a certain individual timing. It gives you the best window to sleep, its physiology says ‘this is a window where I cram down all the metabolic pathways and reactions that are necessary for digesting food’.
“But you’re eating at times [during DST] when your whole digestive metabolism is not prepared for efficiently eating food. That’s why [your body] says, ‘ok, I have food here, can’t do much with it at the moment, so I store it’.”
He compared the social jet lag of DST to the jet lag of flying from the UK to New York, which is five hours behind.
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“Take that jet lag, divide it by five… Now do that chronically every day because you are never leaving…That’s the impact,” he said.
“The clock doesn’t change, all you do is go to work an hour earlier. You go to work in timezone one over to the east. You have to work to that social timezone but you stay in Britain, if you had to work according to Budapest time or Prague time, in Britain you would have to get up an hour earlier every day without ever leaving Britain and you’re clock would not adjust… The fact that your clocks adjust flying to the US or flying back is because you are flying into a new light/dark cycle.
“But if you now go to work on Budapest time but you never go to Budapest, you stay in London, you have a chronic jet lag that never, ever is relieved.”
Prof Roenneberg described DST as “very cunning”, adding: “It claims that it changes time but all it does is to tell everybody to go work an hour earlier.
“Now imagine if a government would suddenly decide to tell people to go work an hour earlier, they would never get through with that.
“It’s nothing else but a dictation that we all go to work an hour earlier but so that we don’t get an uprising, we change the clocks. So as if, they don’t notice.”
When asked if most chronobiologists supported the abolition of DST, he said: “Oh yes, many chronobiologists. If you’re an early type, you like DST because it means you wake up early and you’re now allowed to go work early, you’re home earlier. But in a more flexible system you could do that anyhow.”
He added moving the whole population an hour ahead without choice was “what is so devastating because, in the majority of people, it has health consequences”.
Prof Martha Merrow testifies before the MEPs on behalf of the chronobiologists
Daylights Savings Time is regulated by an European Union directive, which stipulates all member states who take part in switch forward and back at the same time – 1am UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) on the last Sundays of March and October.
Prof Roenneberg added he “a bit pessimistic” about whether it would be abolished.
He said: “If you do polls, it used to be 50/50… but the amount of people that are against the DST is increasing.”
“Politicians themselves are not really looking forward to doing that because it’s another bureaucratic thing,” he added. “It’s not a European law, the only thing that EU parliament does is unify the countries to a certain date. Now, the European parliamentarians actually think they are not responsible for changing it, because it used to be a national law.
“The national governments say the European government is the only that can do anything about. Either we all stop it or not at all and the EU throws the ball back and says ‘well, we never started this so why should we stop it?'”
Prof Martha Merrow, a colleague of Prof Roenneberg’s who presented the evidence on chronobiology to the MEPs, told HuffPost she felt they were swayed by the evidence they heard.
Prof Merrow told the MEPs: “We know that DST increases social jet lag and that chronic social jet lag leads to performance and health deficits.”
She recommended a range of measures, including the abolition of DST, which would, she said, decrease it.