Planning to change the clocks tonight? You’re obeying the nanny state, time expert claims
- David Rooney is former curator of timekeeping at Greenwich Royal Observatory
- He says by changing clocks, we allow Government to tell us ‘when to go to bed’
When you stand on a chair to wind the clock one hour forward this weekend, you are obeying the ‘nanny state’, according to an expert on time.
When we move to Daylight Saving Time, we allow the Government to tell us ‘when to go to bed’, claims David Rooney, former curator of timekeeping at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
In a talk hosted by the Royal Institute of Navigation last week, in Edinburgh, Rooney said clocks are used by the state as an instrument of ‘moral discipline’.
The horologist, which means an expert in the measurement of time, told the audience: ‘In the summer, I get up and go to bed an hour earlier than in winter.
‘I don’t particularly want to, but we change the clocks twice a year, and that’s why. An Edwardian moralist wanted us to live better lives.’
When you stand on a chair to wind the clock one hour forward this weekend, you are obeying the ‘nanny state’, according to an expert on time
Speaking to the Mail afterwards, he said: ‘The current arrangement, where the clocks go forward every year, means that the Government is setting our bedtime and making us get up an hour earlier.
When do the clocks change?
In the UK the clocks go forward 1 hour at 1am on the last Sunday in March, and back 1 hour at 2am on the last Sunday in October.
The period when the clocks are 1 hour ahead is called British Summer Time (BST).
There’s more daylight in the evenings and less in the mornings (sometimes called Daylight Saving Time).
When the clocks go back, the UK is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
‘I am not normally one to talk about the nanny state, but when we effectively have to go to bed earlier in summer, by Government diktat, that feels like the nanny state – it seems a bit weird in this day and age.’
The Edwardian moralist mentioned by the expert and historian is William Willett – a builder and great-great-grandfather of Coldplay singer Chris Martin, who led the campaign for Daylight Saving Time.
In his book, About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks, Rooney states that Willett, who began promoting the idea in 1907, was using clocks to try to ‘cure’ the problem of ‘idleness in the working classes’ by getting them up earlier to make better use of summer daylight.
At the time, graffiti was left on a street in London calling the day the clocks went forward as ‘All Fools’ Day’ and stating: ‘Get up one hour earlier and kid yourself you haven’t.’
Rooney said: ‘Clocks have been an instrument of moral control for centuries, from being used to stop people drinking by setting licensing hours, to Greenwich Mean Time being used to ensure more reasonable working hours in Victorian factories.
‘People went along with Daylight Saving Time because it had powerful backers like Arthur Conan Doyle and Winston Churchill.
When we move to Daylight Saving Time, we allow the Government to tell us ‘when to go to bed’, claims David Rooney, former curator of timekeeping at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich
‘But daylight patterns vary across the UK, so it doesn’t make sense that we all go forward an hour in lockstep, as dictated by London.’
It is no longer possible for British towns and cities to each have their own local time zone, as was the case before the expansion of the railways made it necessary to use Greenwich Mean Time across the country from the mid-19th century onwards.
In his book, About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks, Rooney states that Willett, who began promoting the idea in 1907, was using clocks to try to ‘cure’ the problem of ‘idleness in the working classes’ by getting them up earlier to make better use of summer daylight
But Rooney suggests local areas should be able to set their own work and school times from the start of spring, to reflect the fact that daylight hours differ in different parts of the country.
He said: ‘Surely it would make more sense not to change the clocks, but to change working hours away from 9 to 5 in the summer if that’s what people want.
‘The working schedule could be set locally, rather than by London.’
The idea of Daylight Saving Time was first mentioned by US statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin in 1784, and in Britain it has been in use since 1916.
Its supporters say the lighter summer evenings save energy, reduce traffic accidents and get people out and about so that they are more active.
Some believe we should return to permanent Double Summer Time, as in World War II, when clocks went forward by two hours in summer, but critics point out that in the far north-west of Scotland, the sun would then only rise at around 10am.
Rooney said: ‘When more people are working from home, and working less traditional shift patterns, and 9 to 5 is less common, Daylight Saving Time to give them more light after work no longer makes as much sense.’
Can time changes mess with your health?
Time changes mess with sleep schedules, according to sleep researcher Dr Phyllis Zee from Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.
Researchers at the University of Padova in Italy and the University of Surrey have also found that Daylight Saving Time (DST) disrupts our sleep-wake cycle.
Research suggests that chronic sleep deprivation can increase levels of stress hormones that boost heart rate and blood pressure, and of chemicals that trigger inflammation.
Heart attacks are more common in general in the morning, but that incident rates increase slightly on Mondays after clocks are moved forward in the spring, when people typically rise an hour earlier than normal.
Numerous studies have also linked the start of daylight saving time in the spring with a brief spike in car accidents, and with poor performance on tests of alertness, both likely due to sleep loss.
The research includes a German study that found an increase in traffic fatalities in the week after the start of daylight saving time, but no such increase in the autumn.
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