Daylight Saving Time is more than a nuisance — it may be wreaking havoc on our health

News & Analysis

26th October 2015

God, it was difficult staying up to watch Downton Abbey last night, wasn’t it? After supper at an unfeasibly early 6.30pm — because you were just too ravenous to wait a second longer — there were hours gaping ahead before Lord Grantham et al arrived to assuage the Sunday night feeling. That intervening chasm of time was spent, in my case, picking at bits of food I didn’t really need, watching pop music videos and refreshing my emails every ten minutes in case something – anything – had happened.

This may be a bit of a waste of time for me, but it is nothing at all compared to the wider effects of Daylight Saving Time and the havoc that ensues every time the clocks change.

Daylight saving was originally suggested as a joke by Benjamin Franklin in 1784. It wasn’t until the 20th century — when Franklin’s humour had presumably faded with age, to be replaced with the authority of ‘old stuff’ — that anyone even considered it. Then, it was Germany who adopted it in 1916 as a way to conserve energy during the First World War. Britain followed suit a month later. The apocryphal reason we kept going was that Scottish milkmen were delighted with the extra hour of light in the mornings. This is sadly false, but Alex Salmond campaigned vigorously in favour of daylight saving, saying that abolishing it would ‘plunge Scotland into darkness’.

It might be time for the SNP to wake up and smell the evidence. Daylight saving is a fiasco — and, what’s more, the chaos and missed meetings are the least of our troubles.

Chronobiologists have long suspected that changes to our diurnal rhythms have a negative effect on us. In 2008 a study found that suicide levels peak during the spring weeks following the commencement of daylight saving. The risk of heart attack on the Monday immediately following the clocks changing is 25 per cent higher than usual. Car accidents jump by 17 per cent for that week. This is obviously because everyone’s exhausted — less of a problem in winter than spring, admittedly — but the discombobulation of a shift in our circadian rhythms is an important factor, too.

Disturbance to our internal sleep patterns make us cranky and vulnerable. Relationships suffer from the clocks changing; that unwanted extra hour is the perfect time to have a row. We get fatter, too. This year a team of chronobiologists presented arguments against daylight saving to the European Parliament: every hour of ‘social jetlag’, they claimed, increases the likelihood of obesity by 33 per cent, which in turn costs the European Union €131 billion in healthcare every year. Not to mention the implications for mental health: there is a direct correlation between the clocks changing in the autumn and incidences of seasonal affective disorder. For the elderly and the housebound, shorter days can mean long hours of solitude in the dark.

And to top it all, it seems that changing the clocks has a negligible effect on energy consumption. A large-scale 2006 study in Indiana found that energy consumption is actually one per cent larger as a result of daylight saving: we switch on more lights to try to replicate the time our bodies think it should be.

If we set our clocks to match those of our neighbours across the Channel, we’d have blissfully protracted evenings in summer and longer days in the winter. London is closer to Paris than it is to Edinburgh. If the Scots are so keen to hang on to this outdated, pointless practice then let them. On this point at least, we’re with Europe.


  • Curmudgeon

    Completely missing the point here – daylight saving time means darker mornings and lighter evenings, so the Scottish milkmen would have had less light. If we abolish daylight saving, we end up with GMT all year round.

    • Right: the same time, all year round. That’s what the article supports, and so do I!

  • hoddles

    “London is closer to Paris than it is to Edinburgh.” Yes, dear but we don’t all live in London do we? More ignorant Londoncentricity. Someone tell this idiot they changed the clocks in Paris too yesterday.

  • Pete Snowdon

    Does this author actually understand what DST is? It does not mean “shorter days”. The day is the same length regardless of the clocks. And the current argument is not to abolish it, which she seems to think, but to maintain it all through the year. So the Scots are saying they don’t want it extending to all year because in winter their mornings would be much darker(it is true that at first the mornings are lighter but in the depths of winter under DST it can stay dark until 9.30am) It was regarded as beneficial in wartime because it encouraged people to get out into their gardens and ‘dig for victory” hence double summer time in WW2.

    If you read the study re heart attacks you will find that whilst there is a small spike of heart attacks on the Monday after the change, “The overall number of heart attacks for the full week after daylight saving time didn’t change, just the number on that first Monday.”

    Please get someone who can write with some sort of internal coherence.

    • That’s enough: why should there be ANY deaths for the sake of such a stupid alteration?

    • Oscar

      The days are “shorter” because most people are up for less of the daylight. You might respond, ‘Well get up earlier then’, but that would create even more shock to the diurnal clock. I do agree that the reference to France is confusing, but it doesn’t really matter whether we have GMT, BST or something else – the point is it shouldn’t change.

  • AQ42

    ” London is closer to Paris than it is to Edinburgh”

    True enough. But it’s closer to Edinburgh than it is to Sicily. So why do you want Sicilian time? We live on a round planet where time varies according to your longitude.

    Time for Natural Time

  • ABOLISH DAYLIGHT SAVING!
    We’ve hated it in this household for years.
    The time IS what it is. Surely time should be… timeless, not a plaything of pols and fashion?
    The more we can enjoy the darkness, the better. Dinner in broad sunlight feels wrong, and besides, it’s annoying having to change all the clocks.

  • Marion McLean

    It’s easy to blame the SNP for everything….but it makes for very lazy journalism.

    Yaaaaawn

  • Mary Ann

    The French put their clocks forward in spring as well. Last time they tried not putting the clocks back they found that less children got hurt on the way to and from school, darker mornings, children go straight to school anyway, lighter evenings for children to go home, children are far more likely to muck around on the way home.

  • Mary Ann

    Instead of altering the clocks, we could always alter the time we do things, so in the winter the Scots could start work at 10 and finish at 6.30.