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Ditching the time change leaves Canada in the dark

On Sunday, most Canadians — except in Yukon, which uses permanent daylight saving and Saskatchewan and other isolated pockets who observe standard time year round — will set their clocks back one hour.

The sun will rise at 7 a.m. in Toronto; 7:51 in Thunder Bay; 9:16 in Igloolik, Nunavut, and 10 a.m. in Pond Inlet. In Grise Fiord, Canada’s most northerly community, the sun won’t rise until 12:12 p.m. — on Feb. 10.

These cities and hamlets are all in the Eastern Standard Time zone, which includes Canada’s most northern point at Cape Columbia, Nunavut and its most southern at Middle Island, Lake Erie. EST covers about 60 degrees of latitude before it hits the southernmost point of United States at Key West. With everyone across this massive territory waking up around the same time for work and school, many Canadians are left in the dark. Ditching standard time would make it worse.

Before standardized time, every town was in its own local time zone set to precise solar noon — people woke up with the sun and when it was directly overhead, it was 12 p.m. “New York’s day started a minute before Newark’s, five minutes before Philadelphia’s, 12 minutes after Boston’s,” writes Clarke Blaise in his book, “Time Lord.”

In the 1880s, when trains allowed higher speed travel between these disparate localized time zones, 15-degree longitudinal standard time zones were introduced — in part by Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming — to keep trains running on time, while making sure the times of day still roughly lined up with the sun.

But, in Canada, where a single time zone might stretch across nearly 30 degrees of longitude and over 40 degrees of latitude, people at the western and northern reaches of their time zones are sentenced to a kind of eternal jet lag, their circadian rhythms perpetually at odds with the alarm clocks they set for work and school.

Michael Antle, whose chronobiology lab at the University of Calgary studies circadian rhythms in mammals, calls this the three clock problem: Our internal circadian clocks — an ancient adaptation that sets our wake and sleep cycles — naturally want to follow the solar clock, but are ruled by the social clock of work and school.

Antle points to research that indicates increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and certain types of cancers for residents at the western edge of times zones as compared to their neighbours at the eastern edge of the next time zone, who enjoy earlier sunrises.

When I ask him how we can reconcile this across a country as big and more importantly as tall as Canada, he agrees, “It’s hard.”

The effects of latitude on circadian rhythms are less studied, but we know that a switch to permanent daylight saving time — as unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate with Ontario and British Columbia set to follow — would push our already delayed northern sunrises, a full hour later.

If the average Canadian wakes up around 7 a.m., none of them will wake up to the sun on Nov. 6 with daylight saving time and wouldn’t do so until at least March, (with the exception of preternaturally offset Eastern Quebec).

Russia, the only country in the world larger than Canada and with similar high latitudes, tried permanent daylight back in 2011 but scrapped it after three years. In Antle’s words, “they didn’t realize how bad those delayed sunrises were going to be in the dead of winter.”

I am admittedly more of an “eveningness” chronotype — the suddenly early November sunsets send me reaching for my SAD lamp and a medicinal cup of hot chocolate. But even I know that not seeing the sun until an hour later every morning would be much worse.

As the author of one study on the impact of daylight-saving time at different latitudes put it: “The natural abhorrence for getting activated in the dark plays against this choice.” Let’s not make that mistake here.

Source: The Star