Guest Column: Dr. Michael Antle is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary and Hotchkiss Brain Institute

As a scientist who studies how our bodies tracks time, I’ve long advocated to do away with the tradition of changing our clocks twice a year. I was initially excited when our provincial government proposed to do away with the biannual clock changes. However, I was disappointed to see the proposal was to move to permanent Daylight Saving Time (DST). Every sleep and circadian organization in the world, including the Canadian Society for Chronobiology, advocates for the adoption of the more natural permanent standard time. Permanent DST was tried in Russia in 2012 and in the USA in 1973. In each case, the practice was abandoned once citizens experienced just how profoundly long and dark the winter mornings were. We should not repeat their mistakes.

This leads to two questions. Why is year-round DST so bad? And why is it so bad for Alberta? Year-round DST will have us all waking up and going to work/school an hour earlier in the winter over what we do now on Standard Time. The problem here arises because our body clock — which governs when we wake and sleep — follows daylight. On DST, we have later dawns and later sunsets than on standard time. While the clock in our brain dictates when we should wake, it is the clock on the wall that dictates when we need to wake to keep our employers and teachers happy. When these clocks disagree, we experience social jet lag. We know from large-scale, nation-wide studies that people who experience later sunsets sleep less and have poorer health, with increased rates of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer. This comes from later bedtimes with later sunsets, but early awakenings. The greater the mismatch between our body clock and our society clock, the worse this is for our health.

But why will DST be so bad for Alberta in particular? It has to do with our geographic position relative to the time we follow. On Standard Time, Alberta follows Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) minus-7. The ideal location for this time zone is quite a bit east of Alberta. For this reason, even when on standard time, days in Alberta are already quite delayed. On standard time, the middle of our solar day should be close to 12 noon, but in Calgary and Edmonton it can be as late as 12:50 p.m. So in Alberta, we’re already experiencing DST-like days on Standard Time.

On DST, our days are actually closer to double-DST, with solar noon now occurring is late as 1:44 pm in our major cities. In fact, on DST Calgary and Edmonton are the most delayed relative to the time they follow of all major Canadian cities besides Thunder Bay, Ont.

The problem becomes even worse when we consider Alberta’s population lives significantly further north than in other Canadian province. Edmonton is Canada’s most northern major city, and Calgary is third. This means while we have gloriously long summer days, we have incredibly short winter days. Combining these really short winter days with our geographic mismatch from the time zone we follow means in the winter on DST, dawn will be as late as 9:39 a.m. in Calgary, 9:50 a.m. in Edmonton, and 10:21 a.m. in Grande Prairie.

The mismatch between the social clock that governs our lives and our circadian that follows the sun and governs our biology will be quite severe. Our children and many of our workers leave for school and work before 8 a.m., long before dawn. But because our circadian clock follows the delayed daylight, it will feel like leaving for school and work before 7 a.m. This means we will start our winter days with sleepy workers, sleepy students and sleepy drivers. Because of Alberta’s unique geographic position and northern population, the negative effects will be more profound here than in other provinces.

A lot of people think that the choice of standard vs. daylight time in the winter is arbitrary and comes down to personal preference. However, for the reasons listed above, I’m recommending in this referendum, continuing with the clock changes is the better option on the ballot.

Sadly, the best option — to have the more natural permanent standard time — is not on the ballot.

Dr. Michael Antle is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary and Hotchkiss Brain Institute

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