Find out why and where the concept of daylight saving time began.
Daylight Saving Time (DST) is welcomed by some, not so much by others. Although it’s only a case of setting the clock backwards or forwards by an hour, it can put you out of sync and cause confusion as to when and how you’re meant to adjust the time.
Many people enjoy the extra hour in bed when the clock goes backwards in winter. Whereas others groan at the prospect of losing an hour’s sleep in the summer, despite the compensation of longer, brighter days.
According to the website Time and Date, under 40% of the world’s countries use DST for reasons ranging from making ‘better use of the natural daylight in the evenings’ to ‘reduce the amount of energy needed for artificial lighting during the evening hours’.
But who’s responsible for coming up with the concept?
It’s difficult to attribute the idea of Daylight Saving Time to a specific person.
The idea can be traced back to ancient civilisations such as the Romans, who used water clocks with different scales for different months of the year to adjust daily schedules to the solar time.
Many sources attribute the idea to Benjamin Franklin after he suggested seasonal time change, although he never mentioned anything about turning back the clocks. In fact, he wrote a letter to the editor of the Journal of Paris, where he suggested that Parisians could economise their candle usage by waking up earlier in the morning. However, it was meant as a tongue-in-cheek joke – not a serious suggestion regarding seasonal time change.
The idea is more commonly appropriated to George Vernon Hudson, a scientist from New Zealand, and William Willet, a British builder. Although the pair never met, they both suggested the idea.
Hudson was first to do so in 1895 by presenting a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society. And although the idea was considered interesting, it wasn’t followed through.
In 1905, Willett suggested setting the clocks ahead 20 minutes on each of the four Sundays in April, and switching them back by the same amount on each of the four Sundays in September. Robert Pearce, a British MP, fell upon Willett’s proposal and introduced it to the House of Commons in February 1908, which led to the first draft of the Daylight Saving Bill in 1909. However, after much opposition – especially from farmers – the United Kingdom didn’t start using DST until May 1916, a year after Willett’s death. But they were late to the party.
The German Empire had already introduced DST to the entire countries of Germany and Austria, and is therefore credited for its global popularisation.
Although DST only affects your sleeping pattern by an hour, the disrupted sleep pattern can have both positive and adverse effects on your health.
For instance, a Swedish study found that there was a higher risk of suffering a heart attack in the first 3 days after switching to DST in the spring. On top of that, a Danish study found that depression cases increased by 11% after setting the clocks back.
Yet, on the other hand, DST can be beneficial in terms of improving road safety by extending daylight hours which leads to fewer accidents. And it can encourage people to take advantage of the extra light through exercise. Indeed, a study found that people burn about 10% more calories during DST.