“People want it, we’ll do it.” It sounded so simple when the then EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced in 2018 that the unpopular change between winter and summer time would soon come to an end. In an online survey, 84 percent of the Europeans surveyed had spoken out in favor of abolishing the time change.
What was not clear at the time and is still unclear almost five years later: what comes next? Eternal summer time so that it stays light longer in the evenings all year round? Or the permanent winter time to be able to absorb as much natural daylight as possible in the morning?
life and us
The guide for health, well-being and the whole family – every second Thursday.
The internal clock is based on light and darkness
The best solution may be something completely different. While there are different ideas among politicians and the general public, the chronobiological findings are less contradictory. It is widely agreed that the time should be as close as possible to natural time, which is based on the position of the sun.
Background: The time zones of standard time were originally designed in such a way that the sun is at its highest point at 12 p.m. and at its lowest point at 0 a.m. at all degrees of longitude every day. This is necessary so that people can live as close as possible to natural solar time. The deviation is a maximum of 30 minutes. However, the introduction of Central European Time during the Second World War and the later introduction of daylight saving time led to clock errors. From the point of view of a research group, this problem can be reversed relatively easily.
Chronobiologist: “We trample our internal clocks”
Not being able to fall asleep at night and having to get up tired in the morning. Sleep problems are common. The chronobiologist Till Roenneberg is not surprised. In the RND interview, he explains what our inner clock has to do with it – and what we can learn from it.
Permanent time zones instead of changing the clock
The chronobiologists and sleep researchers have therefore developed a new proposal: the introduction of permanent time zones. “There is a simple solution for the European continent without the need for a patchwork of time zones,” says the 17-page paper, published by the Barcelona Time Use Initiative was published in several languages.
And this is what the plan looks like: All EU countries will abolish the changeover of clocks in the spring. Instead, they stick to the time they use during the winter, which is standard time. The countries where the recommended time zone corresponds to their current standard time do not need to take any further steps. This applies to most European countries, including Germany. With the abolition of summer time and a permanent standard time, the German population lives in natural time – all year round.
The recommended time zones for the European continent.
© Source: Illustration: Vecteezy/Miguel Angel, RND
However, there are numerous states where the standard time does not currently correspond to the recommended time zone. Not only do these countries have to abolish daylight saving time, they also have to put their clocks back one hour for the last time in the fall. They adopt the chronobiologically recommended time zone as the new standard time. This would affect Belgium, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.
Discrepancy between internal clock and social time
The renowned chronobiologist and sleep researcher Till Roenneberg, who contributed to the proposal, sees it as an opportunity to avoid the health risks that are still underestimated. He doesn’t just mean the acute risk of heart attack and the increased risk of accidents in the days after the changeover. The long-term consequences are more problematic. Humans lived outside of natural time for months. This is a chronic burden: “The greater the discrepancy between our internal clock and social time, the easier it is for us to develop diseases from which we die earlier than is necessary,” says Roenneberg. In this context, he also speaks of social jetlag, which indicates how far the internal, biological clock is from the external, social time.
The health consequences include sleeping and concentration difficulties, depressive moods, digestive problems and numerous other risks, which according to Roenneberg are causal consequences of the clock change. Corresponding research results there is now.
transition plan required
All of these risks, which are not yet sufficiently known to the general public, can be significantly reduced by natural time zones, says the researcher. He considers it relatively unproblematic that there would be five different time zones within the EU in the future. He refers to the USA, which has four time zones. “There is no evidence that we in Europe would be disadvantaged by different time zones,” says Roenneberg. He sees making the zones more flexible as the only way to do justice to the interests of the vast majority of Europeans.
From the point of view of the research group, it is necessary to draw up a transition plan to make the transition easier for public and private institutions. Where the transition is initially associated with major challenges, such as emergency and transport services, each member state should address the existing concerns and provide appropriate support.
For the time being, the clocks will continue to change
In addition, Europe-wide coordination is necessary to ensure that the transition runs smoothly. In addition, the population should be informed about the advantages of natural time as well as about the negative health effects of the current system. The insight and support from the population are crucial, says Till Roenneberg. However, the research group now sees it as the turn of politics: the EU Commission is responsible for resuming the political process to abolish the clock change.
For the time being, however, there is no way around changing the clocks again. The German population is thus shifting a time zone to the east, so to speak. Since nothing changes apart from the time, people in this country get up an hour earlier and the sun does not reach its zenith until 1 p.m. We then live in the “wrong” time for seven months.