56% in Favour of Moving the Clock Back

moon over Esja mountain

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.”

Prime Minister Will “Sleep On” Proposal to Put Back the Clock

Sleepy in Reykjavík

A task force under the Prime Minister’s Office has released a comprehensive report on whether Iceland should put back its clock by one hour to align with its geographical position. The report presents three options for dealing with the negative effects of Iceland’s skewed clock. The Prime Minister told RÚV she will “sleep on it.”

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Borrowed time

Local time in Iceland corresponds to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). While in Greenwich itself, the sun reaches its highest point at 12.30, in Iceland it does so only at 1.30pm. Putting back the clock has popped up in public discussion and parliamentary proposals in recent years. While many worry that the current lack of morning light affects Icelanders’ health and productivity, others say changing the clock could be detrimental – not least for airline schedules and businesses.

Research has shown that Icelanders sleep too little, and the report points out the clock’s role in these findings: its skewed position disturbs the biological clock and encourages locals to go to bed later. This can have many negative effects on their health, including increasing the likelihood of depression and other illnesses, as well as affecting performance in school and at work. Iceland does not use daylight saving time and the report does not consider its implementation.

Three options given

The report proposes three options for dealing with these negative effects. The first is to maintain the status quo, but educate the public about the benefits of going to bed earlier. The second option is putting the clock black by one hour, which the task force asserts would improve performance in school among children and youth and reduce dropouts, as well as having a positive effect on the health and productivity of the general population. The third option presented in the report is to maintain the clock’s position but change school and work schedules so that classes and work hours begin later in the day. This option is seen to have more negative repercussions than positive, however, as it could cause scheduling problems within families with children and increased operational costs for businesses.

Opposing arguments

Airline companies and athletic associations have be among those who oppose the change. The former say it would cause confusion in flight schedules, while the latter say less daylight after school and work hours would reduce people’s outdoor activity in the afternoons. The report states, however, that the change would only decrease daylight during waking hours (7.00am-11.00pm) by 3-4% and decrease daylight between 3.00pm and 9.00pm by 13%.

Prime Minister will “sleep on it”

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir states that although she was originally against changing the clock, research on the effect of sleep on people’s health has affected her stance. She adds that it’s impossible to ignore Icelanders’ widespread use of sleeping pills, which according to a recent assessment conducted by the Director of Health, far exceed rates in other Nordic countries. Katrín says, however, that she has yet to take a stance on the issue. “I will sleep on it,” she remarked.