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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Group Says Getting Up Early Is Bad for You

MTA bill sent to the State Duma proposes returning Russia to its pre-1930 standard time to keep people in bed an hour longer.
ST. PETERSBURG -- On the eve of daylight savings time, the State Duma is preparing for the first reading of a bill to return Russia to its pre-1930 standard time.

Supporting the proposed change is a St. Petersburg group of biologists, astronomers and other specialists whose research suggests that putting the clocks forward on March 30 will have a negative impact.

The group argues that the current situation -- in which Russia is one hour ahead of its former standard time in winter, and two hours in summer -- is damaging to people's health, impairs productivity, increases the number of road accidents and drives some people to drink, to do drugs and even to commit suicide. A return to the pre-1930 standard, the group says, would reduce Russia's mortality rate by as much as 10 percent.

Russia belongs to a small group of countries whose time is set one hour ahead of their natural time zone in winter and, consequently, two hours ahead during the summer. The others are France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Tanzania, Argentina and Chile.

Prior to 1930, Moscow standard time was set at two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, the international standard adopted in 1884 that set time zones -- centered on Greenwich and referenced by 24 standard meridians, each 15 degrees of longitude apart -- with one hour difference between adjacent zones. Under a 1930 decree, Moscow time moved to three hours ahead of GMT.

The reason given for the move was that it saves energy. On average 1.8 billion kilowatt hours of electricity is saved every year as a result of the current standard time, according to an official comment on the bill by the State Duma's health and sports committee.

The bill was discussed in the State Duma last fall, but made little progress, with the hearings postponed and likely to be discussed only this month.

Industry, Science and Technology Minister Ilya Klebanov said during last fall's session that the government would not support the bill and it did not believe that changing standard time is a crucial factor in Russia's mortality rate. "The government hasn't received objective information about the negative effect of the existing system on human health. The problem shouldn't be exaggerated," Klebanov said, adding that the government's main reason for withholding support for the bill is financial.

"A return to the old standard time would saddle the government with losses, as people would use more electricity," he said.

But St. Petersburg's Committee for the Restoration of Standard Time in Russia, which was founded six years ago, says that returning to Russia's pre-1930 standard time would synchronize standard time and the natural cycle of day and night, which would be less distressing to the body's internal clock.

The problems are compounded, the committee says, by moving the clocks forward in spring and back in fall.

Committee chairman Vyacheslav Aprelev, a St. Petersburg astronomer, said people have difficulty adjusting to summer time, as they begin the working day before their bodies wake up. According to his calculations, labor productivity drops by 10 percent after the clocks are put forward in spring, leading to a decrease in gross national product of 1 percent to 2 percent.

"Put in figures, this is a loss of 76 billion to 152 billion rubles [$2.4 billion to $4.8 billion] per year," he said.

Aprelev estimates that 70,000 people die prematurely every year in Russia because of the current time regime -- which he calls a "weapon of mass destruction" -- and millions get sick.

A five-year study published in 1999 by Vyacheslav Khasnulin, director of the Health-Care Program in Novosibirsk, western Siberia, said clock changes cause headaches, insomnia, heart defects and minor hormonal disturbances. Khasnulin found the problems were particularly acute after the spring clock change. Fatalities caused by heart attacks jumped by 75 percent in the first five days after the change, while the suicide rate went up by 66 percent.

Committee member Ida Karmanova, a senior researcher at a laboratory studying the evolution of sleep and wakefulness at the Russian Academy of Science's Sechenov Institute of Evolutional Physiology, said children suffer most.

Missing morning sleep, Karmanova said, deprives the brain of large chunks of its activation phase, which plays an important role in brain development.

Aprelev, of the Committee for the Restoration of Standard Time in Russia, says the economic argument favors the change. "Low productivity due to the discomfort of adapting to time changes surpass the electricity savings by 17 to 34 times," he said.

However, Duma Deputy Oksana Dmitriyeva said the whole problem of standard time is "artificial."

"The question is not about standard time, it is about when the working day starts," she said. "In Russia, people usually start at 9 a.m. but, in Western Europe, they start at 8 a.m., or even 7 a.m., so the difference is not that big.

"Maybe getting up that early is something of a problem for some deputies," she said. "But look how seriously the Duma discusses even more absurd issues, such as, for instance, returning the monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky [on Lubyanskaya Ploshchad in Moscow]."