Sleep and mental health researchers are calling on British Columbia to ditch plans to switch to permanent daylight time in keeping with three neighbouring American states as other provinces also consider abandoning the spring and fall time-change ritual.
The B.C. government put forward legislation last fall to stay with year-round daylight time based on a 93 per cent of respondents favouring the change, with 75 per cent of the about 223,000 residents citing health and wellness reasons related to later evening light when they could be more active.
Meanwhile, the Yukon government announced this week it will end the practice of seasonal time change after Yukoners adjust their clocks forward one final time on Sunday to stay with daylight time.
B.C. Premier John Horgan has said he will wait to see whether Washington, Oregon and California go with that measure based on federal approval, which is not required in Canada. California has yet to pass a law on sticking with daylight time.
Wendy Hall, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia’s school of nursing, is among critics who say the online poll was flawed because a permanent standard-time option was not offered and research into the effects of sleep deprivation from people waking up in the dark during daylight time seemed to be ignored.
The switch to standard time happens every fall when clocks are turned back by an hour and is based on when the sun is at its highest point, around noon. Hall is among researchers wanting to permanently stay at that time.
While B.C. has cited economic reasons for aligning its time with jurisdictions in the Pacific Northwest, Hall said the province should play a leading role in adopting standard time for health reasons, especially for teens.
She said circadian rhythms, which are based on a person’s 24-hour natural body clock to regulate the sleep-wake cycle in sync with natural light, are out of balance when people awaken in the dark after clocks are moved forward by an hour, leading to “social jet lag.”
“The people who it has the biggest impact on would be the adolescents. When they have a change in their circadian rhythms they end up secreting their melatonin later in the evening so they tend to stay up later,” Hall said, adding that makes it more challenging for teens, who are already dealing with puberty-related hormonal changes, to get up in the morning.
“I always say to parents if you’re having trouble with your children’s sleep it’s really important to get them out in daylight and get them exposed to some sunshine during the day and you can help them synchronize their circadian rhythms.”
The “crisis” around teenage anxiety and depression is exacerbated with sleep deprivation brought on by the switch to daylight time, especially because research shows it takes up to two weeks for people to adjust to the time shift, she said.
Ralph Mistlberger, a psychology professor and director of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Lab at Simon Fraser University, also said switching to permanent daylight time would be most impactful for teens, who tend to be night owls and tend to suffer from poorer school performance with inadequate sleep.
“It’s not just behavioural, it’s also a biological trait of that age and as we progress into our 20s that starts to reverse and we start to get up earlier,” he said.
“We should be sticking with permanent standard time and not daylight savings time. It’s a big mistake,” said Mistlberger, whose lab has done research related to various aspects of sleep deprivation, including on shift workers and drivers.
He said Yukon and American states that are leaning toward daylight time are “making a giant blunder.”
“My (U.S.) colleagues are all working diligently trying to get the ear of the politicians, trying to get them to revise the legislation.”
“This whole thing is all about light,” he said, adding waking up before the sun rises, an hour later, means missing out on natural light in the morning. This causes a delay in people’s natural circadian clocks by having them stay up later because sundown would be delayed by an hour, he added, leading to less sleep and making it harder to get up the next morning, especially in winter.
Mistlberger and a colleague were among researchers who wrote an open letter to Horgan after the province brought in its legislation.
The two professors, along with others including doctors from the Sleep Disorders Program at the University of British Columbia and another from the school’s Mood Disorders Centre, say daylight time would mean 67 fewer days of morning light in Vancouver compared with permanent standard time.
“B.C. children will have to commute to school in the dark for about a third of the school year,” says the letter, dated Oct. 30.
“As experts in circadian biology, sleep, mental health and safety, we understand that removing the time change in favour of permanent standard time is the preferred option.”
Alberta also surveyed the public last November on whether to stay with daylight time and announced on Friday that 91 per cent of 141,000 residents supported that option, calling it ”summer hours.”
“With a decision about time zones, we must consider what our partners from other jurisdictions are doing and avoid taking actions that would leave Alberta out of sync with our neighbours,” Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish said in a statement.
He said the province would “continue conversations” with organizations and the business community and reach out to provinces in Eastern Canada.
A private member’s bill on the same issue fizzled in Alberta in 2017 before a similar bill met that fate in Ontario last year.
In Manitoba, the Conservative government is sticking with the status quo but public sentiment against changing clocks twice a year has the Opposition New Democrats conducting an online survey to gauge options on the time change, while the Liberals want the idea put to a referendum in the 2023 provincial election.
Camille Bains, The Canadian Press