Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming daylight time shift
Alexandra Mae Jones
It’s nearly time for the clocks to repeat an hour overnight, returning us to standard time—but although we’re ‘gaining’ an hour, it still disrupts our sleep schedules, according to experts.
Clocks will rewind one hour at 2 a.m. on Nov. 5, giving Canadians back the hour that was lost in March at the beginning of daylight time.
This yearly fall ritual, while usually not believed to be as difficult as the spring time change, can cause a number of small disruptions to our regular functioning. Here’s what you need to know.
THE IMPACT ON OUR BODIES
The biggest way that the yearly time changes affect us is through our sleep schedules.
“Our bodies, just like the bodies of other mammals, are sort of guided by this internal clock or circadian rhythm, which is really that 24-hour cycle that regulates our sleep and other key body functions like appetite and mood,” Anya McLaren, assistant professor in the faculty of health sciences at McMaster University, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
“And what the studies and a lot of evidence has shown is that (daylight time is) not a harmless sort of change that we make every year.”
The spring time change, in which we jump forward an hour and lose that sleep, has been associated with an increase in car accidents and even heart problems, she said.
But even though the fall time change may seem less jarring, it still misaligns our internal body clocks.
One mistake that David Greenberg, a Toronto-based physician and president of D. Dave Healthcare Solutions, often sees people making with the fall time change is that they stay up later that night, believing they’ll still get to sleep the same amount of time due to gaining another hour, and then end up feeling disoriented the next day.
“The extra hour is illusory in the sense of giving you a chance to be better rested,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
“If you looked at it in terms of jetlag, OK, they say it takes a day for every hour to return to your normal schedule. But what happens when the clocks change is not only do you gain or lose an hour, but it completely changes the time of day when it's light and dark. And it messes people up for a lot longer than a day. It can be for a week or so.”
The November time change means losing an hour of afternoon sunlight, and some research has suggested that this sudden jump into shorter days can affect those prone to seasonal affective disorder.
One 2017 study from Denmark found that the transition from daylight time back to standard time was associated with an 11 per cent increase in the incidence rates of unipolar depressive episodes.
THE SLEEP DEBT
Disruptions to our sleep schedule can be a bigger problem for those who are already dealing with sleep issues such as insomnia, Greenberg said, but it’s an issue for everyone.
“Sleep has a huge impact on focus, concentration, memory and just general mood,” he said. “When you've been up all night and up all the next day, a hangnail is a big deal.”
Many adults already aren’t getting enough sleep.
“We think that at least a third of Canadians who are between 35 and 64 aren't getting enough sleep in general,” he said, adding that adults should generally be getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
But it’s not just adults — many kids are operating on a sleep deficit, especially teenagers, according to McLaren, whose specialty is pediatrics.
Adolescents who have already gone through puberty or are going through puberty deal with something called “social jetlag,” which is a shift in their natural body clock that occurs between childhood and adolescence.
“Their peak melatonin secretion is happening a bit later,” she said. “They naturally feel tired a bit later and would benefit from being able to sleep in a bit.”
However, our school system demands teenagers get up early in the morning, and McLaren pointed out that a combination of school pressures, increased screen time, extracurriculars and other social engagements often keep teens up late.
When time changes for daylight time come around, “it really sort of exacerbates any underlying sleep issue that kids have,” she said.
She noted that some neurodivergent children, such as children with autism or with ADHD, rely heavily on routine, and the time changes associated with daylight time can impact these children more strongly than other kids.
TIPS AND TRICKS
So what can help us minimize the impact of the time change?
McLaren said that maintaining a good “sleep hygiene” is important during all times of the year, not just around the daylight time switch. This includes strategies such as cutting out screen time for a period of time before sleeping, going to sleep at the same time each night and making sure your sleeping space is dark and comfortable.
Parents should be aware that very young children might get grumpy and be more prone to temper tantrums around the time change, she said.
“Educating parents about the fact that this is something that does happen does definitely help to sort of create more tolerance for that behavioural change that could happen with changes in the daylight savings.”
In the week leading up to the time change, parents could try to gradually shift a child’s bedtime, she suggested, by advancing bedtime by 15 minutes every day or so until bedtime is one hour later just before the time change.
“That way, a regular 8 p.m. bedtime is moved to 9 p.m. just before daylight savings and once the clocks fall back — the bedtime after (daylight time) will be 8 p.m.,” she explained.
Greenberg said that it’s certainly worth a try to gradually shift one’s bedtime in the week leading up to the time change, but that he mostly recommends trying to maintain your regular bedtime during the time change, instead of giving into the desire to stay up later.
McLaren added that taking a short nap no longer than 20-30 minutes can help with grogginess during the day whenever your sleep has been disrupted.
SLEEP IS AN ISSUE YEAR ROUND
Daylight time is one of the few times that sleep health tends to come up in the media, McLaren said, but it’s important year round, and is something people should take more seriously.
“Sleep and sleep health is sort of a primary pillar of child health and child development, and also of adult performance and so much related to mental health and that sort of thing, that I only wish that we had more space to sort of address that all the time,” she said.
Because of our societal focus on productivity, we tend to think of sleep as a “waste of time,” she said, a “passive process” during which we aren’t achieving anything.
“But the reality is that our body is anything but passive,” she said. “It’s a very active process where hormones in our body get regulated.”
Greenberg added that many people disregard their struggles with sleep, or see getting too little sleep as some sort of badge of honour.
“I think that anybody who is having trouble sleeping should make an effort to speak to their care providers,” Greenberg said. “I think it's one of the great underrated health-care problems.”
Some regions in the world have done away with daylight time as a whole, sticking to the same standard time all year-round.
Whether or not that would result in better sleep health overall is something McLaren believes should be studied more.
“The reality is that poor sleep health and poor sleep quality is really a silent epidemic in our youth, as well as adults. And we really need to take a deeper look into what the solutions are. Potentially doing away with daylight savings could be one.”