Peter Enyeart/Flickr

Here's why an entire US state could be changing its time zone

More sunlight, please.

DAVID NIELD
31 AUG 2016
 

Depending on where you are in the world, you might have gotten used to changing your clock forwards and backwards with the passing of the seasons, but there are those who say that's no longer such a smart idea.

State authorities in Massachusetts are seriously considering moving all 27,335 square kilometres (10,554 square miles) of the state to an adjacent time zone, mainly to get lighter evenings in the winter months.

 

In the depths of the US winter, the Sun sets in Boston only a few minutes past 4pm. That early dark is a major inconvenience to local residents and businesses, plus tourists and visiting students, those backing the new proposals have argued.

"You look out the window and [the darkness] shoots your day," Boston University student Sahil Bhaiwala told Tom Moroney and Anne Mostue at Bloomberg. "All you feel like doing is going home, making dinner, and going to bed."

The plan is to move Massachusetts from the Eastern time zone to the Atlantic time zone, and do away with changing the clocks altogether. Atlantic Standard Time (AST) - one zone to the east - would put it in sync with parts of eastern Canada, the Caribbean, and some of South America.

The winter sunsets would arrive an hour later than they do now, in return for an hour's extra darkness in the morning. That's a price worth paying, says Boston healthcare professional Tom Emswiler, who put forward the idea.

"The whole idea of switching times twice a year has a physiological cost that President Woodrow Wilson and Congress couldn't have imagined when they first approved it in 1918," Emswiler wrote in The Boston Globe.

And Emswiler says the science is behind him. A 2008 study from Sweden found a slight increase in the number of heart attacks people have after clocks are shifted – something the researchers put down to "disruption in the chronobiological rhythms, the loss of one hour's sleep and the resulting sleep disturbance".

 

We know regular sleep patterns matter to our health in a host of ways – including lowering the incidence of weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease – and there's some evidence that changing our daily rhythms with just an hour's shift contributes to more road traffic accidents.

For Emswiler, attracting the best students to Boston's universities could be an important benefit of making the change, and now a legislative commission has been set up to look into the potential implications of changing to Atlantic Standard Time the whole year round.

Daylight Saving Time, or DST, first originated in Germany as a way of getting as much sunlight as possible and conserving energy during World War I. Today, almost the whole of the United States and Europe adopts it, plus some of the Southern Hemisphere.

Another way of overhauling time zones could be to get rid of the time zones system completely, meaning that everywhere in the world, the clock time at a particular moment would be the same.

In such a system, instead of having to remember what time it was in other countries, you'd just have to remember what other countries typically did at a particular time – for instance, working, sleeping, or somewhere in between. It sounds cool, but it's debatable whether that would actually make us any better off.

In the meantime, the public officials of Massachusetts will have to decide whether it's worth keeping the Daylight Saving Time tradition or getting an extra hour of sunlight in the winter evenings. Some, of course, already have their minds made up.

"[If] we can make the Sun set not at 4pm when it’s dark and cold and no fun outside," Emswiler told Bloomberg, "that’ll make it a little more palatable."

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