A Public Health Concern: The Debate Over Daylight Saving Time in Canada

A Public Health Concern: The Debate Over Daylight Saving Time in Canada

As Park-Exers and the rest of Quebec turned back their clocks on Sunday, marking the end of daylight time and the return to standard time, the bi-annual ritual prompts discussions about the impact on health and well-being. University of Calgary psychology professor Michael Antle suggests that turning back the clocks allows people to align their circadian clocks with their work schedule and the solar day, providing a chance to catch up on much-needed sleep.

Antle emphasizes the importance of the circadian clock, the internal mechanism that regulates a person’s physiology and sleep-wake cycles, tracking the dawn. In countries like Canada, particularly in the north, the challenge arises when days become shorter in winter, and dawn arrives later in the day. The circadian clock tends to shift later, creating potential disruptions to sleep patterns and overall well-being.

The extra hour gained by falling back in November is generally considered easier for individuals to adjust to than the springtime shift forward in March, according to Antle. However, Rebecca Robillard, co-chair of the Canadian Sleep Research Consortium, warns that adverse effects on mental health, such as increased anxiety and depression, along with substance use, may still be noticeable during this fall transition.

Comparatively, the return of daylight saving time in March has been associated with more severe health impacts. Studies indicate an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and disruptions to the digestive and immune systems during this time change, as highlighted by Robillard. The geographical location within a time zone also plays a role, with those living on the western edge experiencing more intense effects than their eastern counterparts.

Antle points out a significant difference in sleep duration depending on one’s location within a time zone. Individuals on the western edge, akin to living in permanent daylight saving time, may get 19 minutes less sleep every night, accumulating to over 100 hours less sleep annually. Robillard labels this as a “public health concern” and aligns with researchers in the sleep community who advocate for the abolition of daylight saving time.

While some Canadian provinces have taken steps to address these concerns, progress varies. Ontario passed a bill in 2020 to eliminate the bi-annual time change, contingent on Quebec and New York following suit. Similarly, British Columbia approved similar legislation in 2019, awaiting neighboring states’ alignment. However, south of the border, a U.S. federal bill seeking to abandon the time switch remains dormant.

Interestingly, certain regions in Canada, including most of Saskatchewan and the Yukon, as well as select pockets elsewhere, have chosen not to participate in the clock-changing ritual. Saskatchewan, with the exception of some border communities, adheres to central standard time year-round. Robillard emphasizes the significance of investigating whether regions like Saskatchewan may have found a solution to the sleep disruption problem associated with time changes.

As the debate over the impact of daylight-saving time on public health continues, it becomes evident that the consequences of adjusting our clocks extend beyond a simple inconvenience. The question of whether Canada should reconsider its stance on daylight saving time looms large, with the potential for significant implications for the well-being of its citizens.