The clocks are reset: a third have problems with the time change

Status: 30/10/2022 02:03

During the night the clocks were changed. It’s only about an hour – but it’s causing more and more problems for people, according to a survey. And sleep doctors would also like to abolish the time change.

Every year in the fall and spring, a large proportion of Germans feel weaker than usual, because that’s when the clock changes – and that creates more and more problems. According to a survey by health insurance company DAK, 32% of Germans complain of physical or psychological complaints after the time change – the highest level in ten years.

81% of those who had problems after the time change felt weak and tired. 69% have difficulty falling asleep and trouble sleeping, 41% have difficulty concentrating and 30% feel irritable, according to the survey. At 40%, women almost twice as often suffer from health problems after the time change as men (23%).

“Mini jet lag” with health consequences

It is “only” about an hour, one might object. Why does this have such a big impact? Alfred Wiater of the German Society for Sleep Medicine states that our biological rhythm is largely determined by external factors. “This is done by the so-called zeitgebers. The most important external zeitgeber is light. In particular, the blue component of the morning sun suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin and promotes the release of serotonin, which activates us and puts you in a positive mood.” Due to the changes – especially in the spring from standard time to summer time – “adjustment processes are required which correspond to a mini time difference”.

According to Wiater, our hormonal balance can also be confused. “Adaptation to a new time zone is regulated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus,” says Wiater. This region of the brain is “our main internal clock and regulates diurnal fluctuations in body temperature and the release of melatonin, cortisol and growth hormone”. If this internal clock gets confused due to a sudden change in the clock, the release of hormones must be painstakingly adjusted. Wiater therefore has a clear opinion on the time change: “As a result, the population is regularly exposed to unnecessary health risks.”

When will the weather change?

Summer time ends this weekend in Germany and many other countries. At 3 a.m. on the night of Saturday to Sunday, the clocks are shifted one hour to 2 a.m. – the night is 60 minutes longer. Standard time, often called winter time, applies again until the end of March.

Normal – better than daylight saving time

Most Germans also see it that way. In the polls, nearly three-quarters are in favor of abolishing the time change. However, it would also mean big changes in sunrise and sunset times, which are more severe the farther north you are. In Flensburg, if standard time were permanent, the sun would rise around 3:45 a.m. in summer and disappear behind the horizon at 9 p.m. If daylight saving time were to be kept, there would only be light in Flensburg shortly before 10 a.m. in December.

Wiater and the German Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine advocate keeping standard time – that is, winter time. A study from the University of Bologna also comes to the conclusion that the sleep-wake cycle is much more disturbed by the change in the spring than in the fall. And a study by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute even assumes that the risk of heart attack is around five percent higher in the days following the start of daylight saving time.

Young people enjoy summer time

But there are also positive influences, including sociological and psychological ones. Most people can probably make better use of the longer days in summer in the evenings, for example to play sports or meet friends. Restaurant owners also profit more when it’s light longer in the evening than when the sun rises at 4 a.m.

This is also due to the different needs of younger and older generations, as occupational physician Volker Harth from the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) explains: “Young people are active longer in the evening and therefore like sleep longer in the mornings, so they are more of an owl chronotype. The older we get, the earlier we get up in the morning and fall asleep at night, we become more like larches. This is why older people tolerate winter better, while young people tend to enjoy summer. “That’s why more older people tend to be in favor of abolishing daylight saving time.”

Shift workers much more affected

The occupational physician also points out that the time change has consequences for the health of the general population. However, the discussion often overlooks the fact that there are factors in the world of work that have a much stronger influence on our internal clock and our health, especially night work and shift work. Around 15% of the workforce in Germany works in shifts.

At the same time, Harth points to the fact that employees feel a special appreciation on the evening of the clock change – when they often have to work an overtime hour without pay. Good sleep hygiene is always important to prevent insomnia. Sufficient obscuration should be provided in the bedroom so that sleep can be restful, no matter how long the night.

EU-wide investigation without consequences

However, the question remains as to why governments do not address the issue of daylight saving time. One problem with that: politicians say binding regulations are needed across Europe. And in other countries, the subject does not seem to affect people as much as here. This is also shown by a non-representative survey of EU citizens from 2018. 4.6 million of the approximately 450 million EU citizens voted at the time – and 80% were in favor of the abolition. But most of the participants, about three million, came from a single country: Germany.

Nevertheless, the EU promised at the time to tackle the problem. But not much has happened since: “The last discussion took place in 2019”, says commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz ARD studio Brussels. “The ball is further in the Member States’ field of play.” Apparently, given the war in Ukraine, the climate crisis and the pandemic, the subject has slipped down the priority list of heads of state and government.

Where is the promised end of the time change?

Stephan Ueberbach, ARD Brussels, October 29, 2022 6:02 p.m.

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