Ahead of another time change, debate rages on
Which is better? Standard time or daylight saving time?
Ah, fall — that time of year when everything is spiced with pumpkin, old Halloween costumes are dusted off, and we get one blissful extra hour of sleep as we fall back to standard time (ST).
On Nov. 1, many jurisdictions across Canada will fall back an hour as daylight saving time (DST) ends for another year.
For many of us, it’s a way to catch up on some extra sleep that we need, since a majority of Canadian adults are not meeting the minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
The opposite of course is DST, where we spring forward an hour and actually lose an hour of sleep, temporarily adding to the sleep debt that many of us already have.
So why do we rotate between the two, and is one better than the other?
History of daylight saving
Many of us were told to blame the farmers for bringing in DST.
The truth is, it was first implemented in — wait for it — Port Arthur, Ont., in 1908.
This was followed by Australia, Great Britain, Germany and then the U.S., who implemented it as a means of conserving fuel (mostly coal) by reducing the need for artificial light during the First World War.
Since that time, there have been numerous studies that suggest any benefit of saved energy during the summer months are offset by the winter months.
Regardless of which side you lean to (DST or ST), pretty much everyone is in agreement that we hate having to switch back and forth between the two.
Daylight saving vs. standard time
The debate has now shifted to which one is better. And the gloves are coming off.
People are confused by DST and ST.
Very simply, DST has us wake up earlier (in darker hours) and gives us sunlight later in the day and evening hours.
On the surface, this sounds great! We can stay up longer and cram more into our evening hours.
Businesses such as restaurants, tourism and entertainment venues will see the commercial benefit.
Detrimental effects of DST
The downside of DST? We are harming ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally.
Light is the primary synchronizer of our body clock, keeping our circadian rhythms in harmony with each other and the light-dark rotation of our planet.
As a diurnal species, we are designed to rise with the sun and set with the sun.
What DST does is force us to work against the planet, causing our rhythms to not only drift, but desynchronize. Waking up when it’s still dark outside becomes more difficult, as we’re programmed to get our best sleep during those hours.
The result is that we wake up with more sleep inertia — that groggy feeling that makes us want to throw our alarm through the wall into the room next door.
Think of how this may affect you. We now have groggy bus drivers transporting our groggy kids to school, and groggy commuters wreaking havoc on the roads as we try to make our way to work.
What about those who work night shifts, you ask? Won’t it help them? To some degree, yes. But it will make their dayshift assignments a real problem!
We will see more errors and incidents at the worksite in the morning hours and poorer shift handovers during the morning exchange. There is no benefit to rotating shift workers.
The argument for permanent ST
The later we have sunlight exposure due to DST, the harder it will be to fall asleep at our “normal” bedtime.
You will be pushed to a later start time, not only because of the psychological effect of light at in the evening, but because light reduces melatonin production — our natural sleep hormone.
Melatonin helps us fall asleep and stay asleep. Without it, we incur less quantity and quality of sleep.
There are additional consequences to this, including a negative impact on our immune system (hello, COVID-19) and our mood (welcome, anti-depressants) and less clean-up of the toxins in our brain from the double whammy of being awake longer and getting less sleep (nice to meet you, Alzheimer’s disease).
Leading sleep neurobiologists and circadian researchers worldwide are in agreement — to keep our body clock in sync with our solar clock, it is best to eliminate DST and stay on permanent ST.
The results speak for themselves:
- better sleep
- longer sleep
- improved mental health
- improved immune systems
- safer commuting
- safer work environments.
Now, where can I find a good pumpkin latte?
Mike Harnett is a human factors specialist and president of Solaris Fatigue Management in Vancouver.