Good Time Management? The curious history of daylight saving, and how it affects our lives at home and work

black and white clock

At this time every year there’s the annual debate between those who agree with the shift to British Summer Time – or Daylight Saving Time, if you like – and those who don’t. The rest of us are probably a bit too sleepy from getting up an hour earlier to care, but the history of DST and the arguments for and against are still pretty intriguing (once we’ve had enough coffee).

A brief history of daylight saving time

The first British proponent of time change was William Willet, who campaigned for a British Summer Time in 1907 after a dawn walk revealed how many of his fellow citizens were sleeping through light summer mornings. Move the clocks forward and enjoy more daylight, he reasoned, driven in part by a reluctance to leave the golf course so soon in the evenings.

In the end it was the First World War that prompted a change to the clocks, with first Germany, then the allied countries (including the UK) advancing the clocks one hour to cut down on coal consumption. Willet never lived to see the change, dying a few weeks earlier (fun fact: his great great grandson is Chris Martin of Coldplay, the band that wrote ‘Clocks’). After the war many other countries abandoned the change but we kept on jumping forward and backward in time. No wonder we created Dr Who.

Since then there have been a few experiments with the formula, including a shift of two hours forward during the Second World War to maximise munitions factory productivity and allow workers to get home before the blackout was imposed. Between 1969 and 1971, the UK ran permanently on BST as an experiment.

Time trouble

There are various arguments for and against all of this tinkering with time. Opponents suggest that the disruption to our circadian rhythms of adjusting the clocks in the summer makes us crash our cars, injure ourselves at work, lose productivity and simply become more likely to die in the days following the change.

Advocates point to an overall reduction in accident rates, lower carbon emissions, increased tourist revenue courtesy of those later, lighter evenings in which to do things, and better public health (for exactly the same reason). They even argue the case for making the change permanent.

Each side disputes the science and statistics of the other, as you might expect, and don’t even get them started on whether or not Spain is in the right time zone. But like it or not, for now the system is here to stay and the sudden time shift does seem to temporarily knock our sense of balance in time – a shift that can take a few weeks to adjust to. So what can you do about it?

Let’s do the time warp again

Starting tonight, as the change approaches you could incrementally go to bed earlier and set your alarm to wake you up sooner, so when Sunday comes it’s not such a shock to the system. This can be useful for those with children, too, although only if they’re the kind that have sleep schedules and fixed wake-up times (apparently they do exist).

To help with this, cut out your afternoon coffee for a few days before and after the shift, to promote restful sleep.

Getting a hit of sunlight as soon as possible after waking can make a big difference. A morning walk or run, eating breakfast by the window, getting some lunchtime sun or simply plastering yourself against the glass at work (maybe not that one) will help reset your body clock – and there are the usual benefits of moderate exposure to sunlight, too, including better sleep and more vitamin D for skin and bone health.

At work, leaders could try something gently disruptive on Monday, to help employees shake off the lethargy of the previous day’s clock change. Simple changes like a team meeting with healthy food laid on, a creative session to look at positive alterations you could make to your workspace, or planning / carrying out work in the community could help everyone engage and stay productive.

Or we could all go for a round of golf and raise a glass to William while we wait for the sun to set…if we’re not too tired, that is.

Posted on 22nd March 2018 in Culture
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