I’ve enjoyed my extra hour in bed today. After a particularly fast for me 5k run – just under 28 minutes – and a session in our hot tub I’m still in bed now and it’s 1pm. It would have been 2pm if the clocks hadn’t fell back last night.
I like the extra hour in bed but I so hate the dark nights and which will get earlier every day now for two months until it’s dark before 4pm and not light again until around 8am. At least the lights of Christmas give some brief respite to the winter gloom.
It amazes that Governments in large parts of the world are willing to mess with time twice a year and all the disruption it causes for little discernible benefit.
It was over a hundred years ago during the First Word War when, for the first time, an entire nation adopted the practise when the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires realised it allowed them to conserve fuel for the war effort by cutting back on artificial lighting. Britain, France and their allies spotted the energy benefits and quickly followed suit.
That was a century ago, however, when everyone was burning coal. Nowadays the energy conserved through clock changes is negligible. A 2016 study from the Charles University in Prague concluded that just 0.34 per cent of total energy is saved.
So why do we still spring forwards and fall back every year? It’s citizens in more northerly regions (where the Earth’s axial tilt stretches daylight in summer and shrinks it in winter) who are most wedded to the idea of daylight saving time. Countries nearer the equator don’t even bother changing the clocks since day and night are around the same length all year round.
There are distinct benefits and disadvantages. In spring we give ourselves an extra hour of daylight in the evening, time for outdoor leisure and sport. The Sports Council for England is one of many organisations pointing out the health benefits of getting outdoors after the working day has ended.
A 2012 report from the Institute for Study of Labour in Germany concluded that, when the clocks go forward, outdoor activity increases and TV watching decreases, resulting in “an approximate 10 per cent increase in burnt calories”.
Changing clocks certainly disrupts our circadian rhythms. For most of us it results in just a touch of jet lag twice a year which has a short-term impact on concentration and cognition and may lead to fatigue, dizziness and lack of attention.
But for a certain portion of the population, the health detriments are serious. In the days following clock changes there is a spike in depression and even increases in suicides, various studies have found.
Road safety is also a key issue. Interestingly, between 1968 and 1971 our then Labour government experimented with what they called British Standard Time, with the clocks remaining unchanged for three years. It was designed to allow people to benefit from more daylight in the hours after work.
A government report concluded that, during the first two winters of the experiment, road traffic casualties increased in the mornings but decreased by a greater degree in the evenings, resulting in around 2,500 fewer deaths
There has been a consistent trend, over many years, of increases in pedestrian deaths the month after the clocks go back. Year-round lighter evenings would also allow many road users, especially cyclists and pedestrians, to take advantage of the benefits of natural light to remain safe and be seen during evening rush hours.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents agrees. Their research concludes that not changing the clocks would reduce traffic accidents, saving 80 lives and over 200 serious accidents every year. There are even studies suggesting that crime rates would drop if we stopped changing the clocks.
So, in summary, it appears to me there are few pros and an awful lot of cons in continuing this disruptive, dangerous and depressing practise. Carry on we have though for over 100 years.
In these crazy Covid times of worldwide Government lockdowns with little evidence they work I guess I should just accept this relatively minor waste of time. Time to get up and start changing the clocks!