Alberta’s referendum should not focus on daylight time, psychologists say

EDMONTON – The practice of changing the time twice a year may seem like a no-brainer to some, but Alberta psychologists warn that the outcome of a provincial referendum could have unexpected consequences.

EDMONTON – The practice of changing the time twice a year may seem like a no-brainer to some, but Alberta psychologists warn that the outcome of a provincial referendum could have unexpected consequences.

The referendum on daylight time is on the ballot next to the local elections in Alberta on Monday. There is also a referendum on the federal compensation program. In addition, there is a referendum in Calgary on adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water.

In recent years there has been a push to stop forcing people to change their clocks, especially in the spring when people can lose an hour of sleep.

Studies around the world have linked DST to an increase in car accidents, depression, lower productivity, and a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Michael Antle, a University of Calgary psychology professor who studies circadian rhythms, said end-time changes are a good thing. But Alberta should stick to standard time, not daylight.

“We have an acute mismatch between our circadian clock and our spring duty cycle when we (we advance our clocks),” he said.

“The better choice, especially for Alberta, but we advocate it everywhere, is the more natural standard time, where what your circadian clock tells you is less inconsistent with what your boss tells you.”

The Alberta referendum does not give people that option. Voters are asked, “Would you like Alberta to adopt daylight saving time all year round so that our clocks don’t have to be changed twice a year?”

Antle said the question was not well worded and shouldn’t emphasize summer.

“Everyone loves summer. If you vote against summer, you’re just mean,” he said. “I think that will affect a lot of people’s choices.”

He noted that permanently switching to daylight in Alberta would make no difference in the summer, but in winter it would mean dawn around 10 a.m. in most parts of the province.

The best time zone is as close to midday as possible on sunny noon, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky, he said.

But Alberta is further west than other places in the Mountain Time Zone. In Calgary, for example, this means that sunny noon can happen until 12:50 p.m. during standard time. In daylight, he added, it happens around 1:45 p.m.

“In fact, we already have daylight when we have standard time, and we have double daylight when we have daylight,” Antle said.

In 2019, Service Alberta published an online survey on daylight saving time and 91 percent of the 140,000 responses voted in favor of maintaining daylight saving time all year round, the agency’s ministry said in an email.

“Many governments across Canada and the United States are legislating or considering locking their watches to a single time all year round,” said Taylor Hides, spokeswoman for Alberta Minister of Service, Nate Glubish.

“While we are not bound by the decisions of other jurisdictions, we are affected by them, so it makes sense to ask Albertans this question.”

British Columbia and Ontario have announced that they will wait for neighboring jurisdictions to agree to make the change at the same time. In the US, states cannot make the change without the approval of Congress, which has yet to come.

Yukon switched to permanent daylight last year, and Saskatchewan, with the exception of the border town of Lloydminster, stopped changing clocks decades ago.

Alberta’s time referendum is binding, but Prime Minister Jason Kenney has said the province could wait for other jurisdictions to make the same change.

Kyle Mathewson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alberta, said fewer hours of sunshine in the morning could have long-term health consequences, such as an increase in certain cancers, obesity and diabetes.

“The problem with this from a neuroscientific perspective is that our rhythms of waking up and falling asleep are determined by the amount of light around us,” he said. “These early morning hours are very important to set this rhythm for us.”

Mathewson suspects that daylight time could also be favored from an economic point of view.

“If you think about that extra hour after school, when it’s easy, you could think of it as a stimulus for people to go out and spend money in local stores, and those are all good things,” he said.

“But this economic recovery must not be at the expense of our health.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 16, 2021.

Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press

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