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Time change: Why is it necessary to legislate?


Measure, based on the mechanisms of our biological clock, seeks to optimize the performance, learning and general well-being of the population and, especially, of children and adolescents.

On Tuesday, August 7, 2018, the president of the Senate Health Commission, Guido Girardi, presented a bill to establish an official time in continental Chile, corresponding to the current winter time. The purpose is to maintain this regime (coordinated universal time or UTC-5) throughout the year, in order to promote better health for the entire population, especially children and adolescents.

The initiative is based on the information provided by doctors Ramón Latorre, director of the Centro Interdisciplinario de Neurociencia de la Universidad de Valparaíso (CINV) and John Ewer, expert in biological clocks and researcher at the center.

Their arguments are based on the fact that sunrise is the most determining signal of biological awakening, for which it is ideal to start the day considering that premise that optimizes performance, learning and well-being of people.

Bill and its benefits

The document argues that the measure is a public policy decision based on scientific knowledge: “We argue that Chile should adopt the GTM-5 time, or more correctly UTC-5, with the gradualness necessary for a correct adaptation, since the proposed changes will reduce the Chilean population’s chronic sleep deficit and school absenteeism, improving the learning capacity of children and adolescents and the performance of adults. In addition, it will reduce the incidence and severity of diseases caused by chronic lack of sleep such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and some forms of cancer”.

The initiative establishes that the official time of continental Chile should apply to the entire national territory with the exception of the islands of Pascua and Salas and Gómez.

Here are some keys to understanding the time zone change.

The Nordic countries work very well with a lot of darkness during the winter. Why couldn’t we get used to it too?

During winter in Nordic countries, the sun rises late and the days are very short. But it is a mistake to think that the body of its inhabitants gets used to this situation; the truth is that there is little that can be done so that our biological clock changes its functioning, especially when it is for a long time. For this reason, and as would happen with Chileans who travel to Nordic countries, the inhabitants of these countries suffer in the winter. An indication of this is that in these countries the sale of antidepressants is high, and considerably higher than in other OECD countries. The prevalence of what is called “seasonal depression”, which is caused by lack of light, especially at dawn, is also high. An effective treatment is the use of a lighting regimen in the morning that replicates a summer sunrise.

Thus, it is a mistake to think that “the body gets used to” any schedule. However, the Nordic countries have no other choice. Consider that the southernmost city in Germany (and therefore with the longest day in winter) is approximately at latitude 48N, which is close to that of Cochrane in Chile; North Germany extends to latitude 54N, which is greater than that of Punta Arenas (53S). In other words, Germany’s “best hours” still leave its population exposed to many hours of darkness during winter. And no one would consider Germany to be a “Nordic country”; consider Finland, which lies between latitudes 60 and 70N…. Unlike the Finns, Chileans live in areas where the problem is much less. Thus, we can afford a luxury that Nordics cannot afford, of choosing a schedule that would allow us to live in better sync with our biological clock. And if we can, why not do it? Although it is very true that the issue of the schedule is much less serious than the multiple difficulties and crises that Chile faces today, unlike them, it can be fixed simply by overthrowing a Decree (the one that imposed this change in schedule). Doing so would re-establish the original schedule, which, although not optimal, is much better than the current one, both for the health and for the performance of Chileans.

Although with this new schedule I have to use the alarm clock every day, I prefer it because it allows me to get home with daylight from school with my children.

If you wake up every day with an alarm clock, it means that every day you lose a little sleep. Lack of sleep for extended periods has negative effects on health, causing hypertension and diabetes, among others; it also increases the propensity to smoke, decreases attention, etc. Of course, you can choose this schedule in exchange for returning from school with your children with light. But a government must consider the consequences of choosing this schedule on the health of all its citizens and with this schedule the majority of Chileans will lose sleep, with the aforementioned consequences, which will mean a greater cost to the State. Just as it was to make the use of seat belts mandatory and to prohibit smoking in closed areas, sometimes the State must make decisions that violate individual freedoms. In this case, sleep loss, which is greater in children and adolescents, should be considered as an important factor against choosing summer as the only time.

What is the group most affected by this schedule?

The most affected group are young people and adolescents. This is because young people naturally wake up later (apart from needing more sleep) simply because they are young. As a result, the alarm clock makes them lose more sleep than an adult, affecting even more their alertness, attention, and health. Among them, those who are most affected are young people who are also “owls”, and it has been shown that their academic performance is worse during the morning than during the afternoon. Thus, for example, the grade they obtain in an exam depends in part on the time of day they take the exam (which would make the exam less valid as a precise instrument to measure knowledge / understanding). Taking this into consideration, some countries are experimenting with starting school classes at 9 or 10AM. Initial results show that this change has resulted in a notable decrease in absenteeism; Precisely what is expected! In contrast to this, with this new schedule, school absenteeism in Chile increased to 18.9%, from an average of 16.5% for the previous 3 years; what a surprise! It also significantly increases performance.

What would be the best time?

The best time would be the one in which the sun rises at an hour close to the time when most of the population wakes up, since this minimizes the loss of sleep. Since sunrise varies throughout the year, it is not possible to choose a time that works perfectly all the time, unless one lives near the equator. However, the best compromise would be to choose the time that corresponds to our time zone (longitude). For Chile this would be to use the Peruvian time (+ 2h with respect to the current time; + 1h with respect to historical winter time).

Is the proposal of the inhabitants of Magallanes correct to maintain the summer time, thus having a different time from the rest of Chile??

Magallanes is located in the extreme south of the country, so its days are very short during winter. Choosing summer time will mean that the sun will rise very late during winter. This will cause the majority of the population to start each day with a sleep deficit of several hours, which will affect their performance and health. It will also cause most of the population to get up in the dark for a large part of the year. For example, the sun will not rise in Punta Arenas (latitude 53S) before 8:00 between March 28 and September 10, more than 5 months — almost half a year! Compare that to the situation in a city like Copenhagen (55N latitude, a little higher even than Punta Arenas), where the sun will rise after 8:00 between November 23, 2016 and February 3, 2017, approximately 2 months. Thus, while it is true that maintaining this schedule would mean having a little light at the end of the day, the sleep deficit and darkness in the morning for a good part of the year indicate that choosing this schedule would be a bad choice.

Since sunrise varies throughout the year, why is there a movement to eliminate time changes?

The problem with the time change occurs in the spring, when the clocks “go forward.” After that change, citizens must get up to what biologically corresponds to an hour earlier than the day before. This is because (for example) 7:00 after the change corresponds to 6:00 the day before. So after the change we lose an hour of sleep. This has documented effects on attention (eg, more accidents occur) and even on health: the frequency of heart attacks has been shown to increase by 8-10% on the first day after the spring time change; This does not occur after the change that is made in the fall (when the clocks are “set back”) indicating that it is not a change in itself that causes this increase but a change that advances the time. Additionally, this effect on sleep has been shown to persist for several weeks after the spring time change. It is for these reasons that some countries are considering having a unique schedule. However, if a single schedule is adopted, this should be the winter one, so that during the winter the sun rises early.

Download the Bill Here

Download the text “Como elegir un horario para ChileHere

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