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‘A public health concern’: Should Canadians stop turning back the clocks?

On Sunday, daylight time ended and most of Canada set their clocks back an hour to standard time.

University of Calgary psychology professor Michael Antle told CTV National News, turning back the clocks means a chance to catch up on some sleep.

“We’re going to feel better on Monday morning because we’re getting our circadian clocks aligned with our work schedule and our solar day,” Antle said.

Antle said a person’s physiology and sleep-wake cycles are all controlled by an internal clock known as the circadian clock, which tracks dawn.

“Our bodies naturally want to follow daylight,” Antle said. “It gets to be a problem in Canada, in particular, and in other northern countries, when our days get really short in the winter and when dawn starts getting later and later in the day. Our circadian clock wants to move later and later.”

According to Antle, the hour we gain by falling back in November is typically easier for a person to adjust to than springing forward an hour in March.

Rebecca Robillard, the Canadian Sleep Research Consortium co-chair, agreed the adverse health effects are less harsh during time changes in November compared to March. However, she said that does not mean some people won’t notice a difference this weekend.

“In the fall, some of the effects that seem to stand out a bit more are the effects on mental health, so surges in anxiety and depression, substance use as well, especially in males,” Robillard said.

Studies show the return of daylight saving time in March can lead to an increase in heart attacks and strokes, and adverse effects to the digestive and immune systems, Robillard added.

Both Antle and Robillard said these deficiencies can be even harsher depending on where a person is located within a time zone. The farther west a person lives within a zone, the more intense the effects could be.

“If you’re on the eastern edge of a time zone versus the western edge of a time zone, then you experience a very different sunrise and sunset,” Antle said.

According to Antle, those living on the western edges of time zones are similar to people living in permanent daylight saving time. Whereas, living on the eastern edge is like living in permanent standard time.

“You get 19 minutes less sleep every night if you’re on the western edge of a time zone … which adds up to over 100 hours less sleep a year,” he said.

Robillard called it a “public health concern” and said she agrees with many researchers in the sleep community who are recommending daylight saving time be abolished.

Ontario passed a bill to ditch the bi-annual time change in 2020, but it will only come into effect if Quebec and New York follow suit.

B.C. voted in favour of similar legislation in 2019 dependent on neighbouring states making the shift. But south of the border, a U.S. federal bill that looks to ditch the switch remains idle.

Most of Saskatchewan, the Yukon and other select pockets of Canada won’t be turning back the clocks this weekend. Saskatchewan, barring some communities close to the borders, follow central standard time year round.

Robillard said it’s an important question to look into: is Saskatchewan onto something?

“This is a critical question because this effect is strongly modulated by where we’re located in Canada. Different people are effected differently,” she said.

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