Research

UT Southwestern Scientist and States At Odds Over Daylight Saving Time

A UT Southwestern scientist is joining the international coalition taking aim at daylight saving time. Some countries in Europe are looking at eliminating the practice that can negatively affect our circadian rhythms, while other American states are looking to keep it year-round for economic purposes.

UT Southwestern’s Dr. Joseph Takahashi, who discovered the first circadian gene in mammals, says that disrupting our internal clocks is linked to higher rates of obesity, heart attack, cancer, and depression.

“It is now well established that waking up even an hour earlier adds to stress on our body and sleep deprivation,” said Takahashi, who isChairman and Professor of Neuroscience at UT Southwestern, with the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at UT Southwestern, via release.  “Imagine what is happening in the brain and body when our circadian rhythms have to deal with bigger disruptions.”

In China, where there is only one time zone for a country wider than the United States, people in the western regions have to wait until 10:15 for sunrise in the winter and until 10:30 pm for sunset during the summer. Residents of the area have lower life expectancies than their eastern counterparts in China. Research also shows that cancer rates increase the farther west one lives in a time zone, where people are more likely to wake up in the dark, including US populations. Those who work the overnight shift are constantly disrupting the body’s natural rhythms, which increases risks cancer, depression, and heart attack.

“There may be multiple factors that contribute to these findings,” Takahashi said via release. “But many scientists believe the disruption of the optimal phasing of our circadian rhythms – the timing of our rhythms relative to the phase of the solar day-night cycle – is a prime culprit.”

Daylight saving time was created during World War I to conserve energy, and some states want those benefits implemented year round. Florida and California have passed a resolution to request federal approval to stay on daylight saving time. Proponents say the extra hour of daylight would benefit business and give students more time for outside activities after school.

The European Commission, the legislative arm of the European Union, has proposed a plan that would end time changes, but countries are undecided on whether to stay on daylight saving or standard time.

The Society for Research on Biological Rhythms is in favor of standard time, as it would improve sleep schedules.  “Being on daylight saving time is the equivalent of residing on the extreme western edge of a time zone, which we now know has increased associations with health risks,” Takahashi says.

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