Tonight, the clocks are changing for one of the last times ever

Every year on the morning of the last Sunday in October, the whole of Europe goes through the same ritual. People wake up a little more well-rested than usual, thanks to the extra hour they’ve had in bed. Others only realise that they missed the clock change after turning up to brunch, or church, an hour early. It’s as regular as, well, clockwork.

But this might not be the case for much longer. In March 2019, the European Parliament approved a proposal that would put an end to twice-yearly clock changes altogether. If it’s passed by member states and becomes law, it means that we’ll all be changing our clocks for the final time in either March or October 2021.

Proponents of the move say that it’ll save money and help us all sleep a little easier. Here’s everything you need to know about the plan to abolish time-changes for good.

Wait, what’s going on?

Keep up. In September 2018, the European Commission published a proposal to end seasonal time changes across the whole of the European Union. In March 2019, the European Parliament approved that proposal by a landslide vote of 410 to 192.

The proposal will still have to go through the European Council, a body comprised of the heads of state of each of the 28 EU member states, before it officially becomes law. If that happens then each member state will be allowed to choose whether they will live permanently on summer time (in which case the final clock change will be in March 2021) or winter time (with a final clock change in October 2021).

What’s wrong with keeping the time as it is?

It could be bad for your health, for a start. Humans are creatures of habit, and our circadian rhythms – the 24-hour cycles that determine when we feel sleepy, hungry or need to go to the toilet – are closely tied to our sleep patterns. When the clocks change, this knocks our circadian rhythms out of whack, making us feel more tired and distracted than usual – a kind of mini-jet lag.

And this could have particularly severe consequences. A 2012 study from the University of Alabama found that the days after the clocks move forward in March are associated with a 10 per cent increase in the risk of having a heart attack. The researchers aren’t exactly sure why this link exists, but it could be to do with sleep deprivation, which can contribute to increased inflammatory responses, as well as possible disruptions to our immune response.

Next you’ll be telling me it’s bad for the economy…

And that would be correct. One study from US think tank the RAND Corporation found that inadequate sleep costs the UK economy £50 billion a year in lost productivity and sickness. And we already know from a study of US workers between 1983 and 2006 that the Mondays after clocks go forward employees tend to sleep 40 minutes less, which is associated with 5.7 per cent more workplace injuries and 67.6 per cent more lost work days.

Simplifying time also makes a lot of sense from a trade perspective. At the moment, the EU is currently spread across three time zones. The UK Ireland and Portugal all share GMT, 17 states in western and central Europe are on GMT+1 while eastern Europe uses GMT+2. Depending on whether different states opt to stick to their summer or winter times, we could see the UK and Ireland move into the same time zone as mainland Europe, which would make communications and trade a lot easier.

Wait until the people hear about this

They have and it looks like they’re big fans of the idea. Before the European Commission drew up the proposal, it ran a period of public consultation, receiving 4.6 million responses from all 28 EU member states. That’s the highest number of responses ever received in any European Commission public consultation.

It turned out that 84 per cent of citizens were in favour of putting an end to the bi-annual clock changes, although out of all respondents, people from the UK were the least likely to share their opinion on the proposed changes. While 3.79 per cent of the German population were involved in the public consultation, just 0.02 of UK citizens took part. Of those that did, 82 per cent of Brits were in favour of abolishing time changes, while Greeks were the least likely to be in favour of it: 56 per cent said they’d prefer to stick with the current system.

If it’s such a bad idea, why do we even bother with time changes?

It all goes back to the First World War. The German Empire first came up with the idea of turning clocks ahead by one hour in April 1916 as a way of minimising the use of artificial light during the daytime and thus saving on fuel. The UK and France soon followed suit, although most of Europe then dropped the change after the war was over.

The UK has stuck with daylight savings time since 1916 – apart from a brief experiment between 1968 and 1971 – although the rest of Europe was a little slower to come on board with the plan. After making a brief cameo during the Second World War, the idea only really became widespread during the 1970s energy crisis. In 1996, the EU finally unified the continent’s clocks under one system, European summer time, observed from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.

Dare I ask about Brexit?

Good news. If the UK does end up leaving the EU, it’ll be free to keep using daylight saving time if it wants, although that would cause problems on the island of Ireland, as Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could end up with a time difference of an hour. It’s likely that if the EU went for the change, then the UK would follow suit.

…I just wanted to know when to put my clock back

Ah. Well, the clocks go back by one hour at 2:00 AM on the morning of Sunday, October 27. If you’re not up at two in the morning, you can just pop it back before you go to bed. And, chances are, most of your gadgets will probably change to the correct time automatically.

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