Voices: Why sticking with British summer time year round is a disability rights issue

Voices: Why sticking with British summer time year round is a disability rights issue

Welcome to what may be the worst weekend of the year – a 47-hour hellscape that will mess with your circadian rhythm for the next week.

If you’re anything like me, by Friday you will be feeling like a member of the undead, good only for sinking into a bottle of fermented grapes or grain. Pick your poison.

Yes, the clocks are going forward, which is the less enjoyable of these twice-yearly episodes. Although it’s not as if putting them back does the body any favours. The hour extra in bed is nice to have in theory. In practice, the change can still throw you out of whack for several days.

It’s high time we did away with it and retained British summer time throughout the course of the year. This is an issue of disability rights. No, don’t switch off, because this is one of those things where everyone would benefit from a change to accommodate that.

Let me explain; and remember, dear reader, that you may be joining us one day. Being disabled is the one minority group anyone can join. All you need to do is step into the road at the wrong time.

New joiners will soon learn that disabilities and/or health conditions can make sleeping very difficult. I have to deal with a double whammy. Type one diabetes, which means my body doesn’t produce insulin and I have to inject it, wasn’t created by accident. Instead, it was an overactive immune system that ate my insulin-producing cells when I was aged just two, so I can no longer metabolise carbohydrates.

When your blood sugar is volatile and apt to throw regular curveballs at you, even when the condition is well controlled, sleep can be a challenge. It’s actually a plus for me that I always get woken up if my blood glucose levels fall to a point at which I need carbs. But it still means I get woken up.

The accident-related sleeping problems are caused by chronic pain and the challenges of dealing with a body that had a cement truck on top of it, making sleep doubly difficult. Finding a comfortable position can be quite the challenge.

Sleep matters. I find it quite remarkable that I have never been asked about mine by any medical professional I’ve dealt with. The persistent lack of it is brutal. Harvard University’s Health Institute says that even a single night without it causes problems, leaving people “cranky and unmotivated”.

“Over time, continued sleep deprivation raises the risk for a number of chronic health problems, including obesity, [type 2] diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Insufficient sleep can also leave you more vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. There’s even some evidence that insufficient sleep makes you more prone to the common cold if you’re exposed to the cold virus,” it says.

So no, this is not a trivial thing. And yet, twice a year, we mess with the entire nation’s sleep patterns.

But, of course, the advantages of reform go beyond maintaining one’s circadian rhythm throughout the year. Daylight saving – or British summer time – was ushered in during the First World War, when energy was at a premium. Taking an hour from the morning and adding it to the evening saves power, which, given the price of energy at the moment, is not to be sniffed at. Those savings would be even bigger in the winter.

Then there’s the safety aspect. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says there is a marked spike in the number of vulnerable road users killed and seriously injured in the evenings when the clocks go back. Department for Transport figures show that in 2017, pedestrian deaths rose from 37 in September to 46 in October, 63 in November, and 50 in December. Needless to say, it is vulnerable road users who are most at risk.

Lighter evenings year-round would also be a boon to a hospitality industry that has its back against the wall, having suffered disproportionately through Covid lockdowns and now the cost of living crisis, which has crimped people’s discretionary spend.

Yes, there are disadvantages. It would mean dark mornings in Scotland, particularly in the north. But I believe the benefits so substantially outweigh the costs on this issue that it’s worth making the change, even when one factors in the challenge of living in the northern part of the island.

It is now more than a decade since someone last had a go at this one with a private member’s bill. It’s time someone had another crack, to save our sleep – and our lives.