Why Daylight Saving Time Ends Earlier in Europe: Nazis, Economics, and Energy

Americans, don't hit that snooze button just yet.

Getty Images / Sean Gallup

Eight full hours may be a pleasant dream for most of us, but Europeans got an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning. Much of Europe will be back on Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT, as daylight saving time ended for many European countries. But Americans can’t hit that snooze button yet — an extra hour of sleep before work on Monday morning is still a week away.

In America, DST ends on the first Sunday of November, which in 2017, falls on November 5. The time change means that mornings will be brighter and night will fall earlier. The decrease of sunlight during wakefulness hours means that seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, can rear its ugly annual head. Start taking those vitamin D supplements now.

The reasons behind daylight saving time — or European Summer Time — are economical, primarily. If people go to bed earlier because it’s dark earlier, they won’t use as much energy, whether it be coal or oil. And in times of war, like during World War I or when the Nazis came to power and caused World War II, energy needs to be rationed, so measures like daylight saving time are put into place. And once people get used to the time switch, it’s hard to go back. The history of daylight saving time is actually fascinating; each country’s people seem to have had different degrees of contempt for the societal construct.

Updating your clocks, phones, and watches isn’t as much of an annoyance in these modern times — most smartphones automatically make the adjustment, so morning alarms go off at the correct time. The biggest pain tends to be a very confused circadian rhythm. One study suggests that the body never actually gets used to DST.”I don’t think it is valuable to change to daylight saving time,” Ralph Downey III, a sleep medicine physician, told ABC News. “Five o’clock to the body clock is five o’clock.”

Most of the United States and some parts of Europe still use daylight saving time. Hawaii, Arizona, Asia, Australia, and Africa have ceased the system — with the exception of Namibia, the lone African country, and Morocco that still turn their clocks back for DST. If many people find daylight savings time to be utterly useless, why do some parts of the Western world still continue the tradition?

To answer that question, it’s helpful to remember why the system was put in place to begin with. More daylight hours saves light and heating energy, and offers more work hours for agriculture. At least, this was the theory when Benjamin Franklin initially adopted the tradition for the United States. Daylight saving time has been in place permanently in the U.S. since World War II.

At this point, DST remains out of tradition. With many Americans trading in the tractors for a cubicle, the need for more daylight during work hours isn’t as imperative. If you forget when to adjust your clocks, just remember, “spring forward, fall back.”

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