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The majority of Canadians will turn their clocks back one hour on Sunday Nov. 7, meaning one extra hour of shut-eye for many of us who need it.
Daylight saving time (DST) comes to an end on the first Sunday of November every year, before springing forward again in March. Several provinces have recommended permanently ending DST, and staying on daylight standard time, a move that many researchers would be on board with.
Daylight saving time has long been a matter of concern for those who study its impact on sleep, including Joseph De Koninck, an emeritus professor of psychology and researcher at the University of Ottawa's Brain and Mind Research Institute.
According to De Koninck, who has studied sleep for 50 years, many people are misinformed when it comes to DST.
What does Daylight Saving Time do?
“Daylight saving is not a good expression, because it’s not saving light, it’s moving light to the evening. In other words we have the sun instead of being at the peak in the sky at 12, it’s at 1 o’clock,” De Koninck explained in an interview with Yahoo Canada. “In the morning it rises later when we go to daylight saving, so that induces what we call addition to sleep deprivation at the beginning because we’re switching, we’re losing an hour.”
‘Falling back’ and ‘springing forward’ disrupts our sleep
DST creates what he calls a “social jet lag,” which means people are more active in the evening throughout the summer, resulting in less sleep.
“I call sleep the common denominator for physical and mental health," De Koninck said. "So if you don’t have enough sleep you start to have problems."
Even though we're gearing up to set our clocks back an hour this weekend, De Koninck, said daylight saving time has more of an impact on our health in the spring, when we move our clocks forward.
Even though it’s just an hour difference, the disruption to our sleep is linked to more car accidents, heart attacks and other health issues.
“We know all kinds of issues are associated," the professor began. "We know now for even missing an hour of sleep, systematically you start to have issues with bad humour, anxiety, you can have weight gain because your hormones that control appetite are rejuvenated during the night so if you’re sleep deprived you tend to eat more."
In the fall we return to daylight standard time, which the sleep expert calls a good thing.
“We’re going back to perfect harmony between solar light exposure and our biological clock so then we recover sleep so what’s coming up here is good news," he said. "We’re going to go back to the natural situation, which is synchrony between day activities and light exposure."
Even though the change in time doesn’t result in car accidents like in the spring, De Koninck said many people experience a depressive effect because of the additional darkness earlier in the day.
Should you prepare for Daylight Saving Time and 'falling back'?
Whereas in the spring De Koninck would recommend preparing for the time change by going to bed earlier each night for a week beforehand, he recommends using "falling back" to our advantage.
“Most people do not get the amount that they need which is at least between seven and eight hours,” De Koninck said. “It’s a real occasion to get a boost, if you keep that in mind and you profit from it and you take it to make sort of a habit.”
Do we really need Daylight Saving Time?
Daylight Saving Time has long been a controversial issue in Canada, with a few provinces and territories either contemplating opting out of daylight saving time and returning to constant standard time or making DST permanent.
In the last two years De Koninck, who is also the former president and current member of the Canadian Sleep Society, has conducted a survey of the literature on the subject.
In a proposition that can be found online, the society recommends terminating the practice of DST in favour of the reinstatement of permanent standard time.
As for those provinces looking to make daylight saving time year round, De Koninck said it would be better to go back to standard time or solar time, the practice that time zones were created around.
“If people still want to have daylight saving we recommend that we do it later in the spring, in April when we have more light and early fall instead of waiting until November when we suddenly have this lack of light when people get out of school or home from work," he said. "We recommend this be done in early October so that we wouldn’t notice it that much because it would happen around supper time; there would be less disruption.”
De Koninck also suggested having the time change happen on a Friday, rather than a Sunday, so people have the weekend to recover, especially in the spring when they lose an hour of sleep.