It’s that time of year when we “fall back” and turn our clocks back one hour. With recent discussions by politicians lobbying for permanent Daylight Savings Time (DST), Dr. Raymond Lam, a researcher at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health (DMCBH) and professor in UBC’s Department of Psychiatry, highlights why this approach is wrong and why permanent standard time is better for our mental and physical health.
Circadian scientists and sleep specialists agree that the time changes in spring and fall are detrimental to our health. The “spring forward” change to DST has particularly negative effects, leading to an increase in accidents, heart attacks and sleep deprivation when we lose an hour of sleep.
“It isn’t just losing an hour of sleep that’s bad,” says Dr. Lam, “It’s the misalignment between the ‘sun clock’ and our ‘brain clock’ that controls many of our sleep and social rhythms. The biological clock is synchronized to sunrise, so this misalignment results in a form of jet lag.”
The closer our social and sleep rhythms are to the natural sunrise, the better it is for our health, notes Dr. Lam. With permanent Daylight Savings Time, in the winter you will wake up and go to work or school before sunrise, which can lead to problems with sleep, energy and concentration. This makes it even harder for teenagers, who already have delayed biological clocks, to wake up and concentrate on school work during dark winter mornings.
Permanent DST would likely also lead to increased prevalence and severity of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – those people who suffer from winter depression – which is one of the main disorders Dr. Lam focuses on as part of his research and clinical work as the Director of the Mood Disorders Centre at the DMCBH.
“There are no economic savings with permanent Daylight Savings Time and the myth that less electricity is used has been debunked many times,” says Dr. Lam. “For people who say they like DST, they are likely thinking only of the longer summer days and forgetting about the darker winter ones.”
In fact, history has shown that countries including the United States, United Kingdom and Russia, tried variations of permanent DST in the 1960s and 1970s. However, they were all abandoned after several years due to its unpopularity.
In 2019, Dr. Lam and other experts in British Columbia wrote a letter to the provincial government to warn against the adoption of permanent Daylight Savings Time, but to no avail.
For the sake of improving our mental and physical health, Dr. Lam and other scientists recommend the adoption of permanent standard time, instead of Daylight Savings Time.