Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2019
Should we change our clocks Spring and Autumn? One morning in 1784 Benjamin Franklin was suddenly woken early from his slumbers and experienced a seemingly new phenomena, for him at least, his room was” filled with light” at 6am. This cause him to think that if he got up at noon he would have wasted six hours sunlight and would stay up later using candle light. He calculated that this extra expense on candles was considerable, although his logic was some faulty in believing that everyone else got up at noon like him. Although he did not advocate changing the clocks as such, he did suggest that as soon as the sun rose that church bells should be rung and even cannons fired to “wake the sluggards effectively”. Perhaps unsurprisingly his suggestion was never actually implemented. The next advocate of daylight-saving time was an Englishman William Willet who had a similar realisation while out riding one early morning in 1905 although it took until 1907 for him to formulate his ideas in a pamphlet ‘A waste of daylight’ in which he advocated moving the clocks forward in summer to maximise the daylight. The pamphlet was influential and bills were presented to parliament proposing to implement Daylight Savings Time (DST) but it was defeated each time. It was not until 1916 that DST was first implemented, in Germany! The Germans had realised that an extra hour of day light would conserve stocks of coal and fuel in the middle of the First World War, this idea was quickly taken up by Austria-Hungary, Holland, Sweden and Denmark it was only then that Great Britain realised that there might be some benefit to DST and three weeks later we adopted the clock change. So, like the old licensing laws in the UK DST was a wartime measure that persisted even after the war finished however unlike the afternoon closing of pubs this measure was adopted by numerous counties around the world. So why 103 years later do we still do it? Well, I don’t think in this day and age anyone has a really convincing argument one way or another, it is interesting to note that the EU has proposed abandoning the clock change the clock by 2021. Interestingly they are going to allow each country to decide whether they wish to stay on permeant winter time or permanent summer time, which won’t be chaotic at all, given the reason the EU took control of the clock change was to harmonise the change to stop the chaos. Even more interesting is the fact that of the 4,000,000 people surveyed by the EU about the change 70% came from Germany, who started the problem in the first place. The 24/7 culture makes clock time less relevant and messing with clocks can seem an unnecessary inconvenience. Some people claim that the clock change is ‘incredibly disruptive’ and although there is research that shows an increase in incidences of workplace injuries, car accidents and heart attacks in the days after we spring forward, the effects size while statistically significant is actually very small. Research shows that for some it can take up to a week or more for some peoples’ internal body clock to ‘reset’ when the clocks change, but for most any effects last no more than a day or so. Think how disruptive travelling from Paris to London, or New York to Chicago, is for your sleep, the answer it is not at all. Try it yourself, now, change the position of the hands on you watch by going back one hour…………….…. done? OK, did you have a heart attack? Did you have a car accident? Changing the clocks is merely changing the time on clocks and watches, it does nothing to alter the solar or lunar cycle, we do not gain or lose any sleep unless we set an alarm, which is why the clock change happens at 2am on a Sunday morning so the vast majority of people do not have the get up at their regular time to go to work. If you sleep for 8 hours a night and don’t set an alarm it does not matter if the position of the hands on your watch changes in the night you will still get 8 hours of sleep. Trying to prepare yourself, or your child, by changing their bedtime gradually by 15 minutes a night every few nights, is as pointless as it is unnecessary. The best advice for helping your body deal with the time change is to make sure you change all your clocks to the new time before you go to sleep, meaning that you hit the ground running in when you wake up. Don’t over-think ‘losing’ or ‘gaining an hour - if you normally wake up at 7am, then get up at 7am rather than trying to overcompensate for the change in time. And most importantly don’t hit snooze! Routine is key to good sleep. The twice yearly ‘panic’ about the clock change is simply a case of the media hyping up a non-story. So, should we keep the clock change? Well the answer is that it doesn’t really matter what we do, however it should be noted, as pointed out when the bill was originally presented before parliament, that the same benefit could be achieved without changing the clocks and just shifting school and business hours an hour earlier in summer Taylor & Hammer. ‘Shifts to and from Daylight Saving Time and Incidence of Myocardial Infarction.’ The New England Journal of Medicine (359;18) .