Daylight Savings Time, That Time of Year Again?!

This Sunday, March 12th, we “spring ahead” and set our clocks an hour ahead to gain an extra 60 minutes of sunlight……and lose an hour of sleep. At least, that’s how I see it. 

Why do we do this every year?

The loss of time in the morning allows us more daylight hours in the evenings throughout the summer months. This may be helpful for those long summer evenings, but how does daylight saving time (DST) affect our bodies when we’re still wrapping up winter here in Canada? 

One can’t help but wonder what happens to our internal clocks and the health of our eyes when we force them to adjust.

In most parts of Canada, clocks are pushed ahead one hour on March 12th, ahead of the spring equinox. Regions that don't use DST in Canada include most of Saskatchewan and some communities in B.C., Northwestern Ontario, Quebec, and Nunavut.

Daylight Savings Time was first proposed in New Zealand in 1895 to preserve daylight. Supporters of DST generally argue that it saves energy, promotes outdoor leisure activity in summer evenings, and is, therefore, suitable for physical and psychological health, crime rates, and business.

The science behind our body clocks

How the time change impacts you depend on your health, sleep habits, and lifestyle. The one-hour adjustment of our sleep patterns and schedules disrupts circadian rhythms. It interferes with cortisol levels, hormones that fluctuate throughout the day to help manage stress on the body and increase blood sugar when levels are low.

Moving our clocks in either direction alters our body’s natural time cue – light signalled to our brains through our eyes – for setting and resetting our 24-hour cycle. When we adjust our schedules, our internal clock becomes out of sync. Light suppresses the secretion of the sleep-inducing substance melatonin. So, as much as possible, it is essential to expose yourself to natural light during the daytime hours and avoid exposure to bright light in the evenings.

Adverse effects on our bodies

One study determined that people tend to have more heart attacks on the Monday following spring’s DST shift. Researchers found that heart attacks increased 24% on the Monday after DST compared with the daily average for the weeks surrounding the start of DST. Another study found that after DST, fatal traffic accidents increased significantly. After the clocks were moved forward in the spring of 2014, there was a 20% increase in crashes on Manitoba roads on Mondays compared to all other Mondays that year, according to Manitoba Public Insurance.

In general, sleep deprivation and fatigue make lapses of attention more likely to occur and play a role in behaviour that can lead to crashes.

Tips to help us cope

Specialists advise that people may benefit from paying extra attention to their health and sleep hygiene after DST begins. Here are some tips:

  • You can try to get to bed earlier the night before DST, and then start that pattern several days before the change happens. A rule of thumb is that adjusting to an hour of time change takes about one day.
  • You can just take the time to create a sleep-friendly environment to increase your chances of falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleeping soundly. 
  • Create calming rituals before bed to gradually relax(like taking a hot bubble bath and wearing ear plugs or eye masks). 
  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day also benefits your circadian rhythms.
  • Set your alarm to wake up earlier than usual on the weekend of the time change. This helps your body adjust to the change on the weekend and can make it easier to get out of bed on Monday morning.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast first thing in the morning. Food indicates to your body that it is the start of the day.
  • Spend time in well-lit rooms — or outside in sunlight — to help your body clock properly adjust.

You can think of Daylight Savings Time much like jet lag, and the older you are, the harder it is to adjust. Give yourself about two days to reprogram yourself to the new time…and enjoy those lovely long summer nights.