‘Think of it like jet lag’: Clocks spring forward this weekend

Get ready for a muddled Monday.

That’s how next week will start for millions of Canadians. Research shows there are more car accidents, heart attacks and general grumpiness in the days after the clocks spring forward by an hour.

“For some people it’s really going to throw them off,” says Dr. Colleen Carney, director of the Sleep and Depression Laboratory at Ryerson University in Toronto.

The idea of moving back the clocks to allow for more evening daylight hours first became popular during the First World War, when Germany introduced it as a way of saving scarce resources. The notion was to profit from the extra hours of daylight in summer months by shifting clocks, so most people wouldn’t “waste” some of the extra hours of sunlight sleeping.  

And so, the vast majority of Canadians are going to move their clocks forward this weekend.

Moving them back again in the fall and “gaining” an hour of sleep isn’t good either — but people tend to agree that adjusting to the “lost hour” seems to be worse.

“Both of them have a similarly crappy effect,” said Carney. “Think about it like jet lag.”

Dr. Colleen Carney, director of the Sleep and Depression Laboratory at Ryerson University in Toronto, says both jet lag and Daylight Saving Time have ‘a similarly crappy effect.’ (Courtesy Colleen Carney)

As any traveller knows, jet lag can seriously disrupt the body’s natural cycle. Daylight time is the same, except it hits millions of people all at once. Everyone’s body has to adjust.

“While it’s reorganizing itself you’re going to get symptoms like fatigue, mental cloudiness, moodiness, difficulty sleeping,” she said.

“For some people it’s going to be pretty mild, but for people who already have a problem, especially people who have sleep loss, the losing an hour combined with the jet lag is going to be unpleasant.”

Almost everyone in Saskatchewan is immune, of course, because most of the province does not observe daylight time. There are also a few communities scattered across Canada that, for various reasons, do not observe the twice yearly clock-shifting, sleep-disturbing ritual.

Atikokan, a small community in northwestern Ontario, is one of them.

‘We never change our time’

By a quirk of history, Atikokan doesn’t observe daylight time. The issue has been debated three times in recent memory with the pro-daylight time forces losing every round.

“It’s kind of nice, we don’t have to worry about adjusting our clocks or anything like that,” says Mayor Dennis Brown. “We never change our time.”

But the community is always out of sync with its neighbours. For part of the year, clocks clash with Thunder Bay, the big city to the east. For the rest of the year, Atikokan residents are off by an hour compared to the Fort Frances and Kenora, communities to the west. 

“It’s a bit of a challenge,” says Miller.

Monday, however, will be just the start of another week for Atikokan — all 2,753 residents.

They’ll once again have to remember whether they are on Thunder Bay time or Fort Frances time. But their own clocks won’t move, no sleep will be lost and Atikokan isn’t likely to suffer from a spike in accidents or hospital emergencies.

“That’s not an issue here,” said Brown.

It shouldn’t be an issue anywhere, say many health professionals.

Is it time for change?

Carney, the sleep expert, says it’s time to think about whether people want to keep going with daylight time.

Alberta is doing just that. A provincial MLA is calling for an examination of whether to eliminate daylight time and get rid of the annual changeover.

Farmers have complained the shifts can be especially difficult for them. Resetting the schedule of hundreds of dairy cows and related equipment can be frustrating to farmer and animal alike.

Conrad Van Hierden says daylight time is hard on his dairy cattle, who ‘complain by mooing at you.’ (Conrad Van Hierden)

Conrad Van Hierden, who runs a farm near Fort Macleod, Alta., says his cows become grouchy when their schedule changes. He tries to phase in the shift leading up the clock change, moving their milking times by fifteen minutes a day. But it doesn’t work.

“They complain by mooing at you,” he said. 

Sorting through the practical consequences could be difficult, however. There could be confusion at the border, for example. if Canada abandoned daylight time while the United States did not. However, while Alberta is debating what to do, the state of Montana, just to the south, is also studying the issue.

As the evidence of the negative consequences mount, some say daylight time is an idea whose time has passed.

“This is not something from a health perspective that we want to be doing,” said Carney.