There is growing debate on removing this practice, but it comes with risks

At 2am on the 25th of October, Daylight Saving Time (DST) ends in the UK. DST is the shifting of clocks forward in springtime so that, according to the clock, the sun rises and sets an hour later. In autumn, when DST ends, the clocks go back. Although the date of the clock change differs from region to region, the practice is commonly observed across America and Europe.

But in a break from tradition, European parliament has voted in favour of ending the practice. Has Europe got it right? Is the old adage ‘spring forward, fall back’ in need of reform? The origins of DST can be traced back to 1784, when Benjamin Franklin joked that people could save money on candles if they adjusted their sleep schedules to make better use of daylight. Little over a century later, the idea resurfaced as New Zealand entomologist George Hudson and British builder William Willet independently proposed shifting the clocks forward in spring to make better use of evening light. Germany adopted the practice in 1916, with the rest of Europe and America following shortly afterwards.

The original reasons behind DST do not hold much weight in the modern age. A hundred years ago, lighter evenings meant it was possible to work longer hours whilst simultaneously reducing energy consumption and saving money. Today we have technologies, leisure opportunities and working practices that operate around the clock in a way that would have been unimaginable a century ago. Consequently, lighter evenings now have limited impact on working practices and provide negligible financial benefit.

Proponents of DST argue that the convention should be maintained for safety reasons. Indeed, some studies indicate that when the daylight is shifted from the quiet early mornings to evenings when roads are busier, there is a reduction in the frequency of road accidents.

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But when we look at what happens in the days and weeks that immediately follow the change of clocks, we see a different picture. Studies have shown a short term increase in road traffic accidents and an increase in heart attacks immediately after the spring clock change, as well as an increase in medical errors following both the spring and autumn clock changes.

The reason lies in our circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are cycles of physical and behavioural changes that happen across a 24 hour period. They impact almost all aspects of our bodily functions, including temperature regulation, release of hormones, and sleep-wake cycles. They are regulated by external cues (zeitgebers), the most important of which is light. When there is an abrupt shift in the timing of the zeitgeber, we find that our bodily rhythms are no longer in sync with our environment: a common manifestation of this phenomenon is jetlag.

Disruption to circadian rhythms can have profound physiological and psychological effects. The one hour time shift of DST might not seem significant enough to have an impact, but this is where we see the increase in accidents and hospital admissions.

Furthermore, whilst the physiological impact of the clock change is generally perceived to be short term, there is a subset of the population whose circadian rhythms take longer to adjust when the clocks are altered. Ultimately, DST is an artificial construct which requires humans to fight against their body clocks, at a cost to health and wellbeing. The experiment has been running for over a century. Perhaps it is time to call time on daylight saving.