Is it time to stop falling back? Let's sleep on it

·3 min read

Daylight saving time ends in the wee hours of Nov. 1, when clocks will fall back one hour in most provinces and territories — but not all.

In real terms, if you're used to waking at 7 a.m. on Sunday, a properly adjusted clock will tell you it's only 6 a.m. Feel free to roll over and bag another hour's sleep, assuming you don't have young kids.

The end of daylight time seems kinder than the beginning, when we spring ahead in March and lose an hour's sleep.

But any change in sleeping schedules can be disruptive to our overall health, according to CHEO's Jean-Philippe Chaput. He's an associate professor in pediatrics at the University of Ottawa's faculty of medicine, and conducts research into sleep and circadian rhythm.

All sleep experts are in favour of eliminating daylight saving time. - Jean-Philippe Chaput, University of Ottawa

This is the first time we've "fallen back" since the arrival of COVID-19, and Chaput believes that could actually make it easier because the pandemic has already changed our sleeping patterns for us.

"Kids were sleeping longer because they were sleeping in in the morning, they were not going to school. Adults [have] more flexible working hours. I don't have to commute to go to work. Many adults were, in fact, sleeping better and more," said Chaput.

University of Ottawa
University of Ottawa

Bottom line: that extra hour of sleep on Sunday won't seem like such a big deal for most of us, though Chaput, who's the father of a two-year-old daughter, says he doesn't expect to benefit either.

"She wakes up at 6 a.m., so now she will wake up at 5 a.m. So that has an impact on parents like me," he said. "When I was younger, going to the nightclubs, we were all happy to have one extra hour for dancing and drinking. So I guess it depends who you're talking to."

Good morning sunshine

It's called daylight time for a reason: we get more of it in the morning, but the flip side is that it's pitch dark by late afternoon, and that can have a real effect on people.

"We know the impacts of the sun or lights on our mood," said Chaput. "To have very dark afternoons in November, that's always tough on moods. For some people, you will see more depression."

That's especially true during an anxiety-inducing pandemic. Chaput advises people to harness the mood-boosting benefits of fresh air, "so even though we have less sunlight, just by going outside and being active, we know all the benefits … on our sleep quality and quantity."

Jason Lee/Reuters
Jason Lee/Reuters

Several provinces have moved to scrap the twice-a-year time change. Saskatchewan hasn't done daylight time since 1959. Yukon won't be setting its clocks back this weekend, and British Columbia has voted to follow suit in the near future.

Ottawa West–Nepean MPP Jeremy Roberts brought forward a private member's bill to ditch the spring-ahead/fall-back cycle, saying it does "more harm than good" for Ontario. The bill has already passed second reading.

Chaput supports that, and he's not alone. "All sleep experts are in favour of eliminating daylight saving time," he said.

"It adds complexity for so many reasons. It's a problem for communications around the world, for transport.... The big question now is, which one do we keep? Do we keep daylight saving time or standard time?"

In other words, when do you want your sunlight, morning or evening?