It’s time to stop changing time

It’s the last weekend of October again. If on Sunday you’ll be in the a European Union country (still including the UK), you can sleep one hour longer. Don’t get too excited, you’ll lose this hour in March. There’s no free lunch, I’m afraid.

I won’t lie: I believe that daylight saving time (DST) is a relict from the beginning of the 20th century. It might have been useful during the World War I, when the German Empire and Austro-Hungary introduced Sommerzeit to save coal. As happened with many other war inventions, their enemies, led by Great Britain, soon followed this idea. Different countries were joining and leaving the DST club, depending on their political and economical situation. Today in Europe only three countries – Island, Belarus and Russia – are reasonable in this aspect and don’t change their clocks twice a year.

The main idea behind DST is saving energy by using as much daylight as possible. Seemingly it makes sense, but… In the autumn it’s really nice to get up and see the sunlight. However, it also means that there’s no way to come back home during in the daylight, because it gets dark earlier. I did the complicated calculation: +1 hour in the morning – 1 hour in the afternoon = 0 hours saved. Where’s my mistake? Things get even worse in the late autumn and early winter. In December we wake up when it’s dark and as soon as we finish our lunch, it gets dark again. Where are the savings, where?! Actually, in the UK it’s grey most of the time, so it doesn’t matter anyway – we need lights most of the day, especially if we want to work. As Polish ex-minister Elżbieta Bieńkowska noted (explaining why many train passengers got stuck in freezing conditions), “Sorry, that’s the climate we have”.

I think the problem is that a century ago electricity equalled, more or less, the light. Nowadays we depend on electricity all the time, no matter if it’s a day or night. Right now I’m charging my laptop and my phone, the fridge is working, I’ve just microwaved my dinner; the lights are just a part of the whole system. Not to mention big houses with fancy alarms, TVs and Christmas lights (yes, I’ve already seen them this year). Or even worse, industrial buildings. Are lights really the biggest problem?

Let’s think about the moment when we switch to winter time. Our laptops and phones deal with it without a problem, but some more sophisticated systems get confused. Many banks have operational breaks at the change night. IT specialists must be up all night (longer night) to deal with all technical problems. In October passengers spend one more hour on the train, because they need to arrive on time (so apparently they’re just waiting), while in Spring all public transport is delayed.

Obviously the time change isn’t neutral to our health. Some people don’t even notice it, but individuals with quite regular schedules can suffer from insomnia, tiredness or even heart attack (according to Martin Young’s study, on Monday and Tuesday after the time change, the risk of heart attack is increased by 10%). Personally, I always wake up earlier on the special Sunday, because my inner clock doesn’t adjust as easily as my watch.

To make things more confusing, not every country has the same date for the time change. Once I was in the USA in spring and I had scheduled a very important phone call with somebody in Europe. I was waiting for the person to call, after twenty minutes I gave up. An hour later, I got an angry email suggesting that I forgot about the appointment. The problem was, the USA had changed for DST already, while Europe still kept the winter time. Well, now I know.

It’s annoying, complicated and useless. So why? Why do we keep doing this?!

Enjoy your extra hour of sleep! 🙂

2 thoughts on “It’s time to stop changing time

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