The fatal consequences of turning the clocks back

Every spring, millions of sleep-deprived Canadians are prompted to wake up an hour earlier, all the while cursing the person who invented daylight saving time. Few people probably imagine that one man’s love of bugs could have disturbed the life of so many individuals on an annual basis.

In 1895, the New Zealand entomologist George Hudson first proposed the concept of daylight saving time because he wanted more daylight hours to better study his insects. While parliament initially dismissed the idea, the English Parliament later accepted daylight saving time in an attempt to conserve energy: The more in sync time is with daylight, the less necessary electric lights are.

Germany was the first country to adopt daylight saving time in 1916 to conserve electricity during the middle of WWI. The United Kingdom followed suit a few weeks later, with other countries like Canada and the United States in tow. However, most countries stopped the practice when WWI drew to a close. The practice was reinstated during  WWII, but it was not standardized in the U.S. until Congress passed the Uniform Time Act in 1966, which established a system of daylight saving time across the country. Dutifully following its neighbour, Canada subsequently standardized daylight time as well.

In Canada, daylight saving time is a provincial matter. While most jurisdictions have adopted the practice, certain areas, like the majority of Saskatchewan and some towns in Quebec, have not. These exceptions are actually the global norm, as most of the world has not implemented daylight saving time; the practice is not in use in 79 per cent of countries worldwide, and many countries have abandoned it in the last decades.

Despite its long history, daylight saving time has encountered increasing criticism in the last few years. There is a growing movement to end the practice entirely south of the border. A telephone survey in the U.S. from 2013 found that 45 per cent of respondents thought daylight saving time was not useful

The growing criticism is primarily a result of the negative consequences associated with the use of daylight saving time.  For example, a study on hospitals in Michigan found that heart attack rates spike by 25 per cent on the Monday immediately after clocks go forward in the spring. The pushback has also been linked with an increased risk of stroke: Researchers find that the overall rate of artery occlusion-based stroke rises by eight per cent during the first two days after the transition. Also, spring daylight saving time has been associated with an increased number of road accidents. In 2014, there was a 20 per cent increase in car accidents in Manitoba on the Monday following the change.

Perhaps most obviously, daylight saving time disturbs sleeping patterns. Sleeping disturbances can lead to mood disruptions, increased irritability, poorer memory, and lower concentration levels. Individuals who have both a  sleeping disorder and a psychological condition have an especially hard time adjusting to ‘springing’ forward. Research shows that the rate of diagnosed depression, particularly Seasonal Affective Disorder, increases dramatically in the first week following the spring change.

Considering the negative effects associated with daylight saving time, some governments are taking steps across Canada to end the biannual practice. Recently, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities accepted a proposal to disregard daylight saving time completely. In light of the increasing pushback against this practice, disgruntled Canadians can rest easy in the hopes that, in the near future, they won’t be forced to wake up an hour earlier every spring.

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