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Daylight saving time

March 25, 2012

Sleepyheads are facing a tough week. This weekend, the clocks in the EU were set forward one hour. As a consequence, many will experience light sleep problems - while failing to save energy along the way.

A woman turning off her alarm clock
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Since 1980, Germans have been collectively adjusting their clocks twice a year. Surveys show, however, that more one half of the population wants to eliminate the daylight saving time (DST) even though the EU directive applies throughout the 28-member bloc.

The original idea behind the time change was to save energy. The logic was that if there is more daylight in the evening, less electricity will be consumed for lighting. In response to the oil crisis of 1973, many European countries introduced the DST.

Germans, however, faced a unique problem: The government of East Germany rejected the idea. The unilateral implementation of the daylight-saving time would have made the inner-German traffic, particularly between the two parts of Berlin, even more difficult than it already was.

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Giving in

But when Poland and the former Czechoslovakia also introduced the summer time, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) gave in. On April 6, 1980, the clocks in both East and West Germany jump ahead by one hour.

At the time, synchronizing clocks meant a bit more work than today, since most timepieces were still operated manually. More than 2,000 professional time shifters were employed nationwide. 600 railway workers alone had to climb on a ladder to correct the station clocks.

Opponents make their case

A cow
Nobody is happy when an hour of sleep is taken away from themImage: dapd

From the beginning, there were many critics of the time change: teachers were afraid that their students would completely sleep through their first class. Farmers were worried that their cows would produce less milk. And biologists have been warning to this day that health risks and side effects are involved.

"We simply have to recognize the fact that everything that occurs in our body is controlled by an internal time, which can not be changed easily," said Till Roenneberg, of the University of Munich.

Adjusting clocks in the spring leads to a collective mini-jetlag. Some people experience fatigue and have difficulties concentrating. Some get in traffic accidents, and others need to see a doctor. The missing hour of sleep affects many for longer than just a day.

Opponents of the time change are calling for the DST to be abolished, especially since the energy-saving argument has long since been disproved. Although a little less power is consumed for lighting in the evening, more energy is spent in the morning on heating. The bottom line is that the time change actually increases energy use.

Here to stay

What remains is the improved quality of life. Whether in a beer garden, at the beach or at the barbecue: Many have grown accustomed to longer summer evenings. And that's how things will remain for the time being. Despite the concerns raised, the EU is sticking to the DST.

"No member state has expressed an intent to abolish the summer time or change the provisions of the directive," the EU said.

And for those who would like to avoid having to ask themselves over and over the same tedious question: are we setting the clocks forward or backward this time around? - here is an easy mnemonic to remember: we usually spring forward, but fall backward.