Monday, 29 March 2010

Springing Forward and Falling Back

Feeling even more dazed and confused than usual on this particular Monday? Don’t blame the excesses of the weekend, look no further than your nearest clock-face.  Twice a year we have to undergo the absurd ritual of adjusting all our timekeeping devices (except for those which adjust themselves – which can be even more confusing!). Just when we’d got used to lighter mornings, we’re suddenly plunged back into the gloom, as we go GMT+1. The benefit is lighter evenings, till, in October, our clocks go back to GMT and it’s dark by 4pm. What does this have to do with the carfree life? All-round good guy Dr Mayer Hillman has carried out research which shows that the real problem isn’t so much what happens when the clocks go forward in the spring as when they fall back in the autumn.

As Hillman says, most of us in the UK get up well after sunrise during most of the year but are then denied opportunities for outdoor activity by the onset of darkness at the end of the day. His research analysed the consequences of achieving a better match of daylight hours with the period of the day when most people are ‘up and about’ by moving clocks forward by an additional hour from their current setting in both winter and summer. Detailed studies were made of the likely effects and Hillman shows that lighter evenings mean a significant improvement in health and well-being, reductions in crime and electricity usage and reduced road casualties.

Plus associated all-year round benefits from the UK joining the same time zone as most countries in Central and Western Europe. And then there’s that twice yearly ritual, requiring us all to re-set our body clocks. As the Financial Times put it in an editorial this weekend, changing the clocks gives the whole population “a mild dose of ‘social jetlag’.” Advocating GMT+1 all year round (permanent summer time) in line with Hillman’s research, and the UK’s experiment of permanent summer time from 1968-71, the FT concludes “The time has come to leave the clocks unchanged, and let people adjust their own lives to night and day.” Now there’s a policy that would cost nothing, generate huge benefits, and result in major improvements to our quality of life. Which ought to appeal to any politician in these cash-constrained times. Best not to hold your breath whilst looking for this in the upcoming election manifestos.

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