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Is it time to stop the time changes? Many believe it is, for the sake of people's mental health

Les Dawe of Conception Bay South uses music and his vinyl record group to keep his spirits up at this time of year when the clocks go back an hour and there's less daylight. — CONTRIBUTED
Les Dawe of Conception Bay South uses music and his vinyl record group to keep his spirits up at this time of year when the clocks go back an hour and there's less daylight. — CONTRIBUTED
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Between a record-breaking snowstorm and the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been a dark year for many people in this province.

And it’s about to get darker — at least in the evenings.

Daylight saving time (DST) is scheduled to end at 2 a.m. Sunday, when clocks go back an hour to return to standard time.

For some, it means an extra hour of sleep. For others, it’s one less hour of much-needed daylight at the end of the workday, as sunset occurs earlier.

For those already feeling the detrimental effects from decreased daytime hours this time of year, the time change is hard to take, both physically and mentally.

“It’s depressing. I hate it,” Les Dawe of Conception Bay South said. “All this darkness really puts your mind in a different setting.”

The father of two — who works 10-hour shifts, four days a week, at a milk production facility — said going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark affects his energy level.

“I get home and I just don’t feel like doing much of anything,” he said. “Instead of going out on the deck to enjoy the evening or go for a walk, you don’t feel like it because it’s too dark. You just feel like going to bed. … You get into this routine and it’s hard to break it.”

Shawna Butler of Paradise is a former fitness professional who likes to stay active, but also has little spark on evenings when it’s dark.

“It just brings you down,” said Butler, a mother of a teenager. “When it’s dark in the evenings, I’m not motivated to get out at all.”

Both Dawe and Butler say the provincial government shouldn’t interfere with the clocks because of the mental strain people are already experiencing.

While standard time was first instituted in Canada in the early 1800s by the railroads, DST was initially used in 1908 as a means of saving electricity and making better use of daylight. But less than 40 per cent of countries around the world follow the practice today.

“I get the history, but it’s a bit archaic,” Butler said.

“You’re gaining that extra hour, but you’re losing your sanity.”

St. John’s clinical psychologist Dr. Janine Hubbard says this may have been the year to reconsider the time change.

“We need to look and see where we are in terms of modern society,” she said. “Yes, electricity use is still a concern, but at what point does the physical health and mental-health impact outweigh it?”

This year, it certainly does, she said, as health experts worry about people’s mental health heading into the winter, especially since people have been unable to head south on vacation and can’t foresee things getting better in the near future.

Hubbard said the fall time shift can result in increases in depression and depressive disorder with seasonal pattern (formerly seasonal affective disorder (SAD)).

“The amount of daylight exposure we get regulates both our mood and sleep cycles,” Hubbard said. “We don’t know exactly the mechanism behind it, but we know that exposure to sunlight influences our levels of serotonin — one of the happy-mood regulators — and melatonin, which helps regulate our circadian rhythms, or sleep-wake cycle.”

Two to six per cent of the population experience a clinical depression every winter because of the change in light patterns and light exposure, she said.

About 15 to 30 per cent of the population experience “the winter blues,” in which people experience irritability, lack of interest in socializing, difficulty concentrating, low energy and weight gain. It’s most common in adults age 20 to 50, occurs eight times more often in women and moreso in the northern-hemisphere countries.

When contacted by The Telegram Friday, Derek Bennett, the province’s minister of environment and climate change, said in a prepared statement that the department is guided by legislation, the Standard Time Act, and has not considered ending DST in the province.

He said residents’ mental health and overall well-being is important to the government, and several resources are available by phone and online, including those by the provincial CHANNAL Warm Line (1-855-753-2560), mental-health crisis line (1-888-737-4668) and Bridge the Gap (

To help combat the physical and mental impact, Hubbard suggests keeping a sleep schedule to maintain your internal clock, get outside during daylight hours as much as possible, get some exercise, check with your doctor about taking Vitamin D and consider buying a light-therapy lamp. Hubbard said those who really struggle should talk to their doctor.

Both Dawe and Butler said finding outlets to keep busy is important.

For Butler, it’s keeping physically activity. For Dawe, it’s been music, as he runs a Facebook vinyl record group.

“It’s my escape,” he said, “because you’ve got to have something to keep your mind off all this.”

Rosie Mullaley is a reporter in St. John’s.


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