April 14th, 2024

Time transition raises concerns about impact on health

By Steffanie Costigan - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on March 9, 2024.

A doctor of clinical psychology is raising concerns about the affect daylight saving time has on the mind and body.

Simon Sherry is a doctor of clinical psychology at CRUX psychology, and professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University.

“Daylight saving time is a major public health challenge,” Sherry says. “That transition affects more than 1.6 billion people across 70 countries, including many Canadians, and it has major health implications. For instance, that time transition scramble for sleep; it has serious cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks.”

Sherry says there’s evidence connecting the spring-forward, one-hour time change to stroke and accidents, especially motor vehicle collisions that include fatalities.

“And from a mental health standpoint, there’s evidence that one-hour spring-forward time transition links up to mood problems, and changes in the way in which people use substances. By people using more caffeine, more alcohol or cannabis, during this time transition,” he says.

Sherry suggests North America should consider the idea of discontinuing the tradition of daylight saving time.

“I think we need to consider this at a policy level, and seriously, debate whether or not we should eliminate these time transitions. Legislation like that has been under consideration and debate in America. The problem is, it’s not entirely clear if we should go permanently.”

Sherry describes what leads to individuals feeling dysregulated after implementing the time transition.

“The leading culprit has to do with your circadian rhythm. That’s an internal biological clock that runs on a 24-hour basis in our body and brain. And when we arbitrarily adjust that, as we make this time transition, it scrambles up circadian rhythm and disrupts our sleep, dysregulates our mood and otherwise can make us feel tired, cranky and irritable.”

Daylight saving time was implemented in the United States in order to conserve energy during the First World War.

Port Arthur, Ont., which, along with Fort William, forms the northern Ontario city of Thunder Bay, was the first community in the world to implement it back in 1908.

Sherry says it’s important to be mindful of American trading partners and the effects daylight saving time has, and suggests following Saskatchewan as an example of no longer implementing the time change.

“There is evidence that these time transitions are unhelpful for trade if we get out of sync with other regions. We can follow friends in Saskatchewan to have already done away with these time transitions.”

Sherry points out the mental impacts on people are also significant.

“I know that dys-regulation to circadian rhythm has major impacts on health, especially depressive symptoms. After you’ve watched people undergo time transitions for moves, vacations (and even) jet lag, you come to realize eventually, that these time transitions, even the seemingly small ones with an hour, are quite important.”

They can also result in death.

“Time transitions can be very influential, from accidents to suicides, it can be a matter of life and death for some. And it’s not surprising when you subject 1.6 billion people to these types of transitions, and it sometimes goes wrong.”

Sherry emphasized the importance in having regular routines especially in sleep.

“The regulation of our sleep and wake cycle is a really important part of human health, and we need the regulation of our routines. This is a good reminder to all of us of the importance of having regular, predictable routines.”

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