OHS Canada Magazine

Researchers looking into behavioural strategies, instead of pharmaceuticals, to combat sleep disruption


November 15, 2022
By The Canadian Press

Health & Safety Daylight Saving Time Daylight Savings Time Insomnia Lakehead University Sleep Thunder Bay

Photo: Getty Images

By Sandi Krasowski, The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay

Changing the time twice a year can have an impact on people’s sleep cycles, including sleep disruptions. In turn, disruptive sleep from worry, anxiety and insomnia can affect some people’s performance during the waking hours when they need to be at their jobs or in school.

Clocks were turned back one hour on the first Sunday of November.

Deborah Scharf, a researcher and associate professor of psychology at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., is part of a national team of researchers led by Penny Corkum of Dalhousie University in Halifax, who are looking at best practices for supporting people with insomnia with the use of behavioural strategies instead of pharmaceuticals.

“Our bodies want to be on a regular sleep cycle,” Scharf said.

“That’s easiest for us. It makes it easier for us to fall asleep. It’s also disruptive in terms of when our bodies want to wake up because we have brain structures that are sensitive to daylight. If we didn’t have daylight savings, and we didn’t have clocks, we would be waking up with the light just like all the animals do. It’s sort of a push against what’s natural for us to be constrained by these artificial shifts in time. It makes people tired and disrupts our sleep routines and gives us that kind of jet lag feeling.”

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Five-year grant from CIHR

This summer, the research team was awarded with a five-year grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for their study.

“One of the main focuses of our work is to make sure that we understand all of the issues that shift workers and people who have physical health risks to themselves or to the people that they serve through their work, that we understand what their needs are and that we make our behavioural sleep interventions acceptable and useful to them,” Scharf said.

“For people . . . who may be involved in shift work or who have particular risk or safety risk associated with their work when they don’t sleep. . . the best evidence that we have and the safest evidence, is for behavioural strategies to help people sleep better. There’s no risk associated with them, you can’t get addicted to healthy behaviour. We are increasing the research evidence base for non-pharmaceutical sleep interventions and making sure that people who need them get access to those behavioural interventions where needed.”

The fall time change also signals a good time to test batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide (CO2) detectors.

Thunder Bay early adopter of daylight savings

Thunder Bay has a special connection to the time switch.

Christina Wakefield, an associate archivist with the City of Thunder Bay Archives, says it all began in 1908 when Fort William and Port Arthur became one of the first places in the world to institute a form of daylight saving time.

She said in 1972, the people of Thunder Bay voted in favour of permanently implementing the spring switch to daylight time and fall reversion to eastern standard time.

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