The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

30° Stony Brook, NY
The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Wired Science: When Television Overshadows the Sun

    I’m going to step back from the hard science for now, and inspect an issue that is a rarely acknowledged, universal concern: sleep.

    Having lacked it for the last few nights (well, what’s night and day is not clear anymore), I had to ask myself, why were my circadian rhythms so out of order?

    Having now lost a whole hour to Daylight Saving Time (which came nearly four weeks too early this year), I felt compelled to seek some answers.

    I found solace in the Journal of Labor Economics, of all places! In a paper titled “Cues for Timing and Coordination: Latitude, Letterman, and Longitude,” Dr. Daniel Hamermesh, along with other colleagues, examined our constant struggle to find a snug sleeping fit.

    The team looked into circadian rhythms based on the sun over the course of the last 100 years. They put everything in the context of time zones and came up with an interesting conclusion: we run on television time. Natural cues, such as, sunlight and Daylight Saving Time, affect us much less than artificial cues, such as television schedules.

    So, where does television come in? Just ask Hamermesh. “I lived 20 years in the Eastern Time Zone, I used to stay up until 11:45 p.m. to watch the monologue on the Tonight Show. Living in Texas, I typically turn out the lights at 10:45 p.m., when the monologue is done.”

    To further understand how television cues our sleeping patterns, the authors of the study looked at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey. The data had provided insight into how we split our time between work, sleep and television, which, believe it or not, are our three greatest time-consuming activities.

    When the data was placed against the sunrises and sunsets of yesteryear, the authors discovered that factors such as businesses, markets and television schedules shape our sleeping schedules. Daylight and time zones were found to be much less influential than usually purported.

    The question now is why this study important to the average student. The study claims that those in the financial and information industries follow the natural time zone cues, but those in education and health, follow the artificial television cues.

    Some other results to churn over the next time you can’t sleep, include findings that your probability of watching late night television (between 11 and 11:15 p.m.) decreases with age. Also, those in the Central and Mountain time zones are 6.4 percent less likely than the later zones to watch television between this time.

    So, the next time you have trouble falling asleep, you might consider skipping (or TIVO-ing if you must) your late-night show. I know I will.

    Leave a Comment
    Donate to The Statesman

    Your donation will support the student journalists of Stony Brook University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The Statesman

    Comments (0)

    All The Statesman Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *