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"We are living in the wrong time zone and that is having an effect on our health"

Spanish children sleep on average 53 minutes less.
Spanish children sleep on average 53 minutes less. / SUR
  • "It isn't that we have always had lunch at 3 or 4pm, but that working hours changed certain habits for a generation," says José Díaz Canseco of the EAE Business School

José Díaz Canseco doesn't like losing time, and that is why this teacher at the EAE Business School is a leading member of the National Commission for Rationalising Working Hours, which is calling for changes to be made to benefit people in Spain.

According to this organisation, everyone's physical and mental health would benefit if Spain reverted to the timezone it was in before the Second World War.

“We human beings have adapted our bodies to the circadian cycle. Because of the logical processes of the body, from the psychological and physical point of view we need to get up when the sun rises and be close to going to bed when it sets,” explains this expert.

“In the morning the body temperature starts to rise and from 7pm the body temperature drops and lowers the activity of energy and of the brain, in order to encourage sleep,” he says.

The first thing Spain would have to do is adopt the same time as the Canary Islands.

“Geographically, Spain is aligned with Greenwich Mean Time, just like Portugal and a large part of France,” says José. “During the Second World War Spain was one of a number of countries that changed its time to that of Germany, through affinity or for other reasons. When the war ended, the other countries gradually returned to their natural times. Since then, we have been an anomaly, not just because our time is wrong, or because of the impact on health, which there is, but because we are in a time zone which just should not be ours,” he says.

The second measure proposed by the commission is to fight Spanish people's reluctance to change their eating hours.

“There are people who are 40 years old and tell you it has always been like this, and even some older people say the same, but it's not correct,” insists José.

“In the 1930s and 1940s our grandparents and in some cases our parents used to have lunch around 1 or 1.30pm, and dinner would be between 7.30 and 8pm. Since the Second World War, with so many more women going out to work, there was a change in habits. Spanish people started to have two jobs, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, and that meant that at lunchtime, as well as food, they needed a longer rest. That's why lunchbreaks began to be two hours long. When the services sector started to grow that system carried on, and it is still normal today. It isn't that people always ate lunch at 3 or 4 o'clock, it was that working schedules determined the habits of one generation and the following ones have carried them on, even though they are not good for us,” he explains.

Children

The bad habits to which Díaz Canseco refers have also spread to younger people, given that Spanish children sleep on average 53 minutes less than those elsewhere in Europe.

“That's a long time. There are problems with concentration, anxiety and even depression, from a very early age. The body needs to sleep well to mentally clean everything we have done during the day. If you don't sleep at night then the next day you are not capable of reaching the right level of concentration, energy, attention or, technically, the excitation of the cerebral neocortex which you need during the day,” he says.

Adults in Spain are also affected, because their alarm clocks go off at the same time as in the rest of Europe but they go to bed 90 minutes later.

The solution proposed by the Commission goes beyond raising awareness of the problem.

“People are already very aware, and many of them are suffering,” says José. “The time zone in Spain has to be changed, and that is hardly difficult. It only involves signing a royal decree. The ideal time to do it would be in March.”

He is convinced there would be no problem changing people's mentalities if they were willing to do so. “One of the things we say is that the administrations don't have to decide a school timetable; it should depend on the types of parents there are, because they have different professional dynamics,” he argues. It all comes down to not wasting time.

“It is not so much to do with coordinating the hours of the sun with Greenwich Mean Time, but coordinating our timetables and customs, and that is where the type of company is important and how the working hours and shifts are organised. But not just that - also the culture of how time is respected, whether we are using time intelligently, how my family and I use our time, social framework and school hours. We have to be aware of the importance of time. Every second or minute lost can never be recovered,” he insists.