Daylight saving time in Spain: when, how and why we change the clocks

Spain is about to change the clocks again. It happens twice a year, in October and March, always around the last weekend of the month. In the first case, we turn our clocks back. In the second, we move the clock hands forward. Hence, everyone in Spain sleeps one hour more in autumn—a gift that will be once again stolen in March, when we change the clocks and 2am becomes 3am, and we will have one hour less to sleep. The reason behind all this is daylight saving time, whose main goal is to align waking hours to daylight hours.

Gifting and stealing hours twice a year is a decade-long tradition, but many people have raised their voices against this Western approach. However, in order to understand the current situation, we should take a look at the past first.

The history of daylight saving time: where, how and why it started

A black and white picture of soldiers marching

The first time change happenned during WWI. | Shutterstock

It was the North American politician, scientist and inventor Benjamin Franklin who suggested to change the clocks in order to adapt them to daylight hours in the late 18th century. Some figures like British builder William Willett would eventually support his idea, pointing to the fact that citizens slept when the sun was already out. Therefore, natural light was being wasted only because it was not “time to wake up”.

This proposal was not put into effect until World War I. More precisely, it happened in April 1916, when Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire decided to implement the theory of the daylight saving time. Soon after, most European countries joined in, but this measure was only applied inconsistently for decades. Spain is the perfect example of said inconsistency.

When Spain introduced the daylight saving time

Even though the daylight saving time was established in Spain in April 1918 as a response to the demands of other Western countries, the truth is that the time change was managed in a considerably irregular way. The clocks did not change once from 1920 to 1923, and neither did they in 1925. The Spanish Civil War aggravated the chaos even more. In fact, the Republican faction of the Civil War had their clocks in a different position to the Francoist side.

The following years were not better in this respect. From 1950 to 1973, the daylight saving time was not implemented. It was in 1973 that they decided not to ignore it anymore. Therefore, we could say that Spain definitely committed to changing the clocks in 1973.

Daylight saving time: advantages, disadvantages and possible outcomes

In favour of changing the clocks in March and October

A white clock with a wool cap and a plae blue bakcground

The intention behind the daylight saving time was to benefit from the natural light in winter. | Shutterstock

The advocates of keeping the daylight saving time in Spain usually argue that adapting the clocks to natural daylight hours helps save a considerable amount of energy in winter. In the coldest months of the year, the time change aligns the sunrise with the rings of the alarm clocks all over Spain. This way, natural light usually stays until 6 pm. In addition, were we to discard the time change, it would not dawn in the north of Spain until ten in the morning.

Against changing the clocks: all for one and one for all

Being against the time change usually means defending a permanent state of daylight saving time. That is, rejecting the way we set our clocks the rest of the year. Those against changing the clocks twice a year question the veracity of the alleged energy saving, claiming that, although the daylight is made the most of in the morning, most people do not return home earlier than 6 pm, hence they consume more energy. Moreover, the heating cost always rises in winter. If the daylight lasted longer, it would make it possible for people to leave their jobs when there is still light outside, significantly reducing the number of people coming home at night. Besides, this would also benefit different fields like tourism.

Apart from the benefits any of these approaches might entail, another aspect to take into account on this matter is the health-related issues produced by time changes. Our sleep cycles get altered every time we change the clocks, and our bodies experience a small-scale jet lag. Some studies suggest that there is an increase of traffic accidents and heart attacks the days we shift the time. According to the University of Alabama, it could be avoided if we stuck to a permanent time arrangement.

How living in Spain would be in a permanent state of daylight saving time

Between March and October, everything would remain the same. The sun would rise between 6.30 am and 8 am, earlier in summer and later in autumn and spring. Nightfall would vary from 8.30 pm to 22 pm.

The most drastic changes would arrive in winter. From October to March, sunrise would not start till 8 am, and in some places the sun would not rise until 10 am. In exchange, we would gain daylight hours in the evening. It would never get dark before 6.30 pm.

How living in Spain would be in a permanent winter time

Nobody really considers sticking to the winter time, but it is still interesting to have a look at it. In this case, schedules would be similar to the ones we experience between October and March. The sun would rise between 7.30 am and 9 am, depending on the month, and the daylight would go out between 5 pm and 6.30 pm. However, in summer it would be like this: sunrise at 5.30 am in June and, eventually, at 7 am. Best case scenario, the sun would set at 9 pm.

The likeliest outcome: bye-bye time change

A blue clock on a table with autumn leaves and trees in the background

It seems like we will stop chaning the clocks every October. | Shutterstock

It seems like, in a few years, we might only talk about changing the clocks as an anecdote from the past. In 2018, after hearing the thoughts of five million citizens of Europe, the European Commission presented a draft project to remove this measure once and for all. They conducted a survey and the results were certainly revealing: eight out of ten people stood against the time change. The Western society is becoming increasingly more reluctant to embrace this decision that was made in more than a decade ago, during World War I. Times have changed, and it seems like time changes will soon be outdated.

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