Ever turned up to brunch at what you thought was the right time only to discover you’re an hour late? Or rushed to catch a train before finding out you’re 60 minutes ahead of schedule? That’s daylight saving time for you - the biannual changing of the clocks that has been messing up our social schedules, circadian rhythms and even our mental health for over 100 years without actually “saving” any daylight at all.
But change could be in sight. In March 2019, the European Parliament approved a proposal to scrap the changing of the clocks altogether, leaving only member states’ national governments to pass it before it becomes law. Here’s everything you need to know.
It was during the First World War that the UK started putting the clocks forward by an hour every spring and back an hour every autumn, ostensibly to save energy by making better use of the light. Really it’s less about “saving” daylight than moving an hour of it to the morning rather than the evening once the shorter days roll around. The EU aligned the starting and finishing dates of all member states in the ‘90s, and we’ve been ‘spring’-ing forward and ‘fall’-ing back ever since.
Where do we begin. Missed lunch dates and messed-up baby sleep schedules aside, confusing our circadian rhythms by switching the time can have a detrimental effect on our health. Like an internal clock, our circadian rhythm helps us to determine when we need to sleep and eat, and the shifting of this by even an hour can throw us out of whack for weeks. Think of it as a mini version of jet lag - you find yourself awake when you don’t want to be, and then yawning at the dinner table. And we all know how important good sleep is to pretty much everything we do.
The pushing forward of the clocks in spring, welcoming British Summer Time to the fore, is often celebrated for giving us more time in the sunshine and therefore boosting our vitamin D levels. But the impact of us all losing that extra hour of sleep has actually been linked to an increase in the risk of heart attack in the first three days after making the switch. We’re also five times more likely to miss an NHS appointment in the week after the clocks go forward than in the week before, and road traffic accidents are also more common than usual in that same week.
Gaining an hour of sleep in the autumn obviously feels more appealing, but the shifting of an hour of daylight from evening to morning only means we leave the office in the dark and end up spending most of the light hours at work. Yes it means brighter mornings, but a Danish study in 2016 found an 8% increase in depression diagnoses in the month following the clocks going back. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression linked to changes in the seasons, is said to affect one in three people in the UK.
On top of that, daylight saving time is thought to have a negative effect on the economy, and makes trade more confusing. When’s it ending again?
Possibly. The European Council has not yet agreed a position on the proposals, but Brexit obviously throws a slight spanner in the works: if the UK were to leave the EU before a directive were enforced, we could end up making a separate decision. But if EU member states do vote to get rid of daylight saving time quickly enough, we could all be changing our clocks for the last time in either March or October 2021, depending upon whether it’s decided best to stick to “permanent summer” or “permanent winter” time. All we can say is, please let it be permanent summer.
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