But beyond politics, time zones are also associated with serious health impacts. In India, where there is also only one time zone, populations in the west of the country experience the sun rising and setting later, despite having to follow the same official working hours. In practice, this means people tend to go to bed later but don’t get up any later, which can have serious consequences. “Sleep-deprived children are less likely to attend school, decrease time spent studying, and increase time spent on sedentary and compensatory leisure activities,” says Cornell University PhD candidate Maulik Jagnani, who wrote a paper on this topic.
Other studies have revealed the same effect at the western edges of time zones in the US. In these regions, rates of breast cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease are higher. This is primarily down to the chronic disruption of circadian rhythms associated with having to wake up in the dark.
Could universal time solve some of these issues? Hanke proposes that without the strictures imposed by a particular time zone, different locations would be free to tamper with their local working hours and timetables. Although all the clocks would be set to the same time, business hours would vary by location. “You would be more in tune with circadian rhythms, because the local times would be set according to the sun or local social habits, which would be geared by the sun more than time zones – there wouldn’t be time zones so the problem goes away,” says Hanke.