'It actually throws me off': Why some experts say it's time to stop springing forward and falling back

As British Columbia introduces a bill to stay on daylight time, there's research that suggests springing forward and falling back can be bad for your health. That's why some experts say it's time for a debate across the country about whether to abolish the practice.

Changing the time has negative impacts and few benefits, some studies suggest

John Scott, 62, adjusts the time on big clocks like the ones at Toronto's Old City Hall and Soldiers’ Tower at the University of Toronto. (Submitted by John Scott)

While many of us are looking forward to an extra hour of rest when the clocks go back an hour on Sunday, it's one of the busiest times of the year for John Scott.

The 62-year-old Waterdown, Ont., man has been maintaining tower clocks found at town halls, churches, railway stations and campuses around the province for 36 years. He's the person who gets to adjust the time on big clocks like the ones at Toronto's Old City Hall and Soldiers' Tower at the University of Toronto.

"Twice a year, I look forward to it. I love going up in the towers as long as I can still climb," said Scott. "I see something different every time. No two tower clocks are the same."

And while he's one of only a handful of people who do the adjustments — once in the spring and again in the fall — he wouldn't miss the end of daylight time.

"It actually throws me off when I have to adjust my inner clock myself," he said.

To get to the tower clock at Old City Hall, Scott must climb 269 steps. (Submitted by John Scott)

He's not alone. Patricia Lakin-Thomas, an associate professor in the biology department at York University, said after the time changes twice a year many experience a shock to their internal clocks.

She said it's much like jet lag.

"People would be very surprised to discover that just one hour of time difference can make a really significant impact on your health," said Lakin-Thomas.

"We've seen that when you spring forward in April, you can have an increase in car accidents and heart attacks, workplace injuries, strokes. There's even a surprising study showing that judges give harsher sentences after the times change."

While the effects tend to disappear after a few days, Lakin-Thomas said her team at York University's Clocklab has found a host of negative effects from this forced change to our circadian rhythms.

Scott doesn't just adjust the time, he maintains tower clocks like this one atop Old City Hall. (CBC)

"The clock that is in our brains and in all the cells of our bodies is a genetically-determined clock. It's hardwired in our genes," she said. "It's genes that run the clock, and you will do best if you allow your internal body clock to do what it wants to and not try to fight it."

And she said time changes can throw that off by an hour, which causes problems for many people.

"They are suffering from what we call social jet lag. Their social time — that is, your clock on the wall, your alarm clock and your expectations of going to work and going to school at a particular time — is out of step with your body clock."

Patricia Lakin-Thomas, seen here surrounded by her team at York University's Clocklab, said people can experience effects much like jet lag due to springing forward and falling back.

She said some research has suggested this lag causes problems with body weight and obesity, diabetes, higher levels of heart disease and even rates of specific cancers.

Lakin-Thomas, who is a member of the Canadian Society for Chronobiology, said given the evidence that switching to and from daylight time can cause health problems, there should be a debate on whether to end the practice.

In British Columbia, the provincial government introduced legislation to stay on daylight time permanently after a survey found an overwhelming number of people support the change.

In Ontario, Marie-France Lalonde, the former MPP for Orléans, tabled a private member's bill called the Sunshine Protection Act to keep daylight time year-round.

"Let's protect our sunshine and make Ontario a safer and happier place," she said when she tabled the provincial legislation, which is still under consideration at Queen's Park.

"People are sick of watching the sunset while they are still at work," said Lalonde, who was elected as the Liberal MP for Orléans in last month's federal election.

Lakin-Thomas encourages legislatures looking at the possibility of abolishing daylight time to revert to standard time, which is closer to our biological clocks.

"Permanent daylight saving time is going to put us out of step with our sun time," she said.

The practice of putting the clock ahead in the spring and back in the fall became popular during the First World War, when it was believed it would save energy that was needed for the war effort, but Lakin-Thomas said those benefits have not materialized.

"There's no more daylight created by having daylight saving time, and the energy savings didn't really appear."


Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for the National Network based in Toronto. His stories are on CBC Radio's World Report, World This Hour, World at Six and The World This Weekend as well as CBC TV's The National and CBC News Online. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.


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