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56% in Favour of Moving the Clock Back

Approximately 1,600 people submitted opinions on whether the government should move the clock back one hour to better align with solar time, RÚV reports. The government solicited opinions from residents in January of this year. 

Direct Democracy

On the website Samráðsgátt (Consultation Gateway), which the government launched in 2018, Icelanders are encouraged to comment on various parliamentary bills and policy drafts, the idea being to increase transparency and to allow citizens to participate in democracy directly.  

Few issues have garnered as much feedback as whether the Icelandic clock should be moved back one hour to better align with solar time. Iceland currently observes Greenwich Mean Time, which is a time zone to the west of its “correct” geographical time zone.

A recent summary published by the government offices states that 1,586 individuals expressed their opinion on the matter, suggesting that the issue is of some importance to residents. “Many of the opinions that were submitted were detailed and well corroborated; it’s clear that many residents spent a good deal of time submitting quality opinions.”

Participants were given three options:

  1. Keep the clock unchanged, but educate residents on the importance of retiring to bed earlier.
  2. Move the clock back one hour, to better align with solar time.
  3. Keep the clock unchanged, but encourage schools and companies to begin their operations later in the morning.

56% in Favour

37% of participants preferred not changing the clock. 56% favoured moving the clock back one hour. 4% wanted schools and companies to begin operations later in the morning. 3% were undecided. 

Most of the participants who favoured moving the clock back pointed to scientific research that has shown that the alignment of solar and clock time is conducive to better health. The upsides to the change would greatly outweigh the downsides, many argued, especially as regards the health of children and teenagers, whether physical or mental. 

Those opposed to the change referred to a report by the Ministry of Health that indicated, among other things, that sunlight hours between 07:00 and 23:00 in Iceland would decrease by 13% annually if the clock was pushed back one hour. The delay would mean less sunlight later in the day, which would increase the risk of accidents and result in residents being less active later in the day. Still others noted that an increased discrepancy between Icelandic time and European time would negatively impact commerce.

Some detractors also maintained that moving the clock back would have little impact on the sleep habits  of residents, as the modern lifestyle – lighting, screentime, smartphones, etc. – was the main reason for insufficient sleep.

The Offices of the Prime Minister are currently reviewing the results and hope to reach a decision next spring. 

A Brief History of Icelandic Time

As noted in an article on Iceland Review earlier this year, current clock time in Iceland originates with legislation that was passed in 1968 in which Iceland adopted “summertime,” or Greenwich Mean Time, the whole year-round. Prior to 1968, the Icelandic clock was changed twice a year:

“Under this new arrangement, noon in Iceland was delayed by an hour (from 12:30 to 13:30). According to a memorandum that accompanied the legislation, the twice-yearly moving of the clock was a hassle. It caused ‘confusion’ in airline schedules; necessitated the ‘resetting of clocking-in machines;’ ‘disturbed the sleep habits of individuals, and especially infants;’ and, more importantly, perhaps, given that darkness was a non-issue during summer (the sun doesn’t set from mid-June to mid-July) most Icelanders favoured brighter winter evenings – as opposed to brighter mornings.”

As previously noted, Iceland currently observes Greenwich Mean Time, which is a time zone to the west of its “correct” geographical time zone. This discrepancy between solar time and clock time may have adverse health effects. A report commissioned by the Ministry of Health states that individuals residing in the westernmost area of a given time zone go to sleep later and sleep less than individuals residing more easterly, where the sun rises earlier. The report notes that on average Icelanders go to sleep later than citizens in neighbouring countries, and Icelandic teenagers sleep less than their European counterparts:

“It’s possible that insufficient sleep may be leading to higher dropout rates among Icelandic high-school students. Research has shown a correlation between circadian misalignment and an increased likelihood of depression in teenagers and young adults.”

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