The Clock “Springs” Forward – At Least For Now

We are getting closer to the end of the cold, dark, (quarantine) winter. This year especially, it will be a welcome return to long, light summer evenings and warm weather. However, unlike the arrival of spring showers and May flowers, there is one aspect of the transition from winter to spring that regularly irks many Ontario residents.

On the morning of March 12, we will lose an hour of precious sleep as the clock “springs” forward into Daylight Saving Time (“DST”).

While the idea is to take advantage of daylight so that people don’t sleep through the first few hours of sunshine, for many, this annual switch increases sleep deprivation, leaving some motorists feeling drowsy behind the wheel of their cars. Research has shown that this ‘mini jetlag’ caused by the hour of sleep loss is most severe in the first days following the time change, but can be observed for up to two weeks.

A 2016 study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety indicates that drivers who miss out on an hour of sleep are inherently more likely to cause an accident. “Drowsy driving negatively impacts how well you can make fast decisions, leads to delayed reaction times, and makes it hard to pay attention to the road and properly assess potential hazards”, according  to Josef Fritz, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow with the Circadian and Sleep Epidemiology Lab at The University of Colorado, Boulder.

Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, looked at statistics pertaining to nearly a quarter of a million motor vehicle collisions in the United States Fatality Analysis Reporting System (which took place between 1996 and 2017). What they saw was a consistent rise in fatal motor vehicle injuries in the week immediately after a spring time change. Researchers found that the time change typically causes a 6 percent increase in fatal MVAs in the week following DST, or an approximate 28 additional deaths each year.

In areas closest to the western edge of their time zone, the number of accidents after the change increased even more, showing a roughly 8 percent jump in fatal crashes. Because the study only considered fatal collisions, the authors surmised that the total number of crashes in the week after the clocks change is in reality likely even higher.

The other direction of the clock change has also been shown to have implications for increased traffic accidents. When the clocks “fall” back in November, statistics from Quebec and Ontario have shown that the number of personal injury accidents occurring between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. increase by 25% and 19%, respectively, in the 30 days following the time change. After the November clock change, motorists are suddenly driving home in darkness when, only a few days before, their evening commutes took place in daylight.

Aside from motor vehicle collisions, the biannual time switch has been linked to an increased occurrence of negative side effects such as workplace injuries, sleep disturbance, strokes and heart attacks. A 2014 study presented to the American College of Cardiology based on data from Michigan hospitals indicated that the number of patients admitted for heart attacks increased 25% on the Monday immediately after the clocks turned forward. A 2008 Swedish study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found a 7% increase in the number of heart attacks in the first three weekdays after the clocks spring forward. Researchers attributed this increase to a lack of sleep.

A number of jurisdictions in Canada and the United States have taken action in response to these concerns. Most of Saskatchewan, Yukon, and some communities in British Columbia, Northwestern Ontario, Quebec and Nunavut do not change their clocks. Neither do Arizona or Hawaii in the USA. Some states such as Florida, Alabama and Washington are presently considering making Daylight Saving Time permanent, eliminating the need to adjust the clocks twice a year.

Province-wide relief may be in sight. But it will be slow to arrive.

On November 25, 2020, the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed the Time Amendment Act, a bill brought by Ottawa West- Nepean MPP Jeremy Roberts. The bill would end the twice-annual practice of changing the clocks, and would make daylight time permanent in Ontario. Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. The change will only happen if neighbouring jurisdictions, Quebec and New York, agree to do the same.

So while we wait for Mr. Roberts and the Attorney General to attempt to convince our bordering neighbours, what steps can you personally take to reduce the time change’s effect on your likelihood of being involved in a collision?

•  Sleep experts recommend prioritizing your sleep in the days leading up to the clocks springing forward. Try to begin adjusting to DST a few days before the change takes place. Set your alarm to wake up a little earlier than usual on the Saturday and Sunday of the spring time change.

•  Eat a healthy breakfast first thing in the morning. Food is a trigger that can help tell your body the day is starting.

•  Spend time outside in sunlight to help your body clock properly adjust.

•  It is always helpful to minimize the amount of blue light, from television and computer screens (as well as mobile phones) that you are exposed to at night.

•  Avoid heavy dinners, coffee and alcohol shortly before going to bed.

•  If none of these tips help, try to find some time to nap during the day to allow your body to adjust.

•  Lastly, as a driver, be on extra alert. Pull over if you are feeling drowsy. Opening the window, or increasing the volume of your stereo, are not effective ways to stay awake.

About the Authors