How Daylight Savings Time Affects Your Mental Health

If you’re experiencing the winter blues, you’re not alone, especially now that we’re about to “go back” one hour to standard time on Sunday.

About 5% of the population suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that occurs as daylight hours decrease in the fall. About 10 to 20 percent of people have mild SAD.

According to a survey by the Sleep Foundation, people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) slept 53 minutes less in October than in September. Reduced sunlight exposure in the fall disrupts the body’s biological clock and may lead to feelings of depression. How time changes affect your body:

Can time changes trigger depression?

Returning to standard time means we will have less sunlight during the day. The loss of natural light can cause levels of serotonin, the body’s “feel good” chemical, to drop in the brain.

At the same time, melatonin production increases as the nights get longer. Researchers believe that melatonin plays an important role in people with seasonal affective disorder. Our circadian rhythm releases melatonin (a hormone associated with sleep) at night, making you feel sleepy.

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Although sleep disorders are thought to be less likely as daylight saving time ends, a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that in the week after the November time shift, respondents reported the following symptoms:

◾ 34% Increased sleep satisfaction.

64% Increased difficulty falling asleep.

103% Increased excessive daytime sleepiness.

115% Increased difficulty falling asleep.

How do changes in time affect the brain?

When we shift our body clocks slower, our sleep cycles, chemical balance, and circadian rhythms are disrupted.

Our circadian rhythm is our body’s internal clock, which is affected by our environment, behavior, and medications.

Natural sunlight is a major source of vitamin D, an essential nutrient for overall physical and mental health. During periods of reduced sunlight, people are more likely to develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:

Don’t deny that this feeling is the “winter blues” or seasonal funk. Some clues to tell if you have seasonal affective disorder:

Feeling sad or down most of the day

sleep too much

difficulty concentrating

Loss of interest in activities


Overeating or craving carbohydrates

feeling hopeless or guilty

Where is SAD most common?

The states furthest from the equator have the darkest and coldest winters due to less direct sunlight due to the Earth’s tilt. States in the Midwest and Northeast receive the least amount of sunlight during the winter.

In a recent Sleep Foundation survey, 24.4% of people in states with less sunshine had SAD, compared with 15.2% in states with more sunshine.

How to adjust your body to changing times

While some cases of seasonal affective disorder may require therapy and medication, there are several natural alternatives for those suffering from milder winter blues:

Improve sleeping habits. You can gradually adopt your new routine by changing your sleep schedule in 15- or 30-minute increments over a few days. A consistent pattern can help you adjust your bedtime routine more easily.

Enjoy the sunny days. Take a brisk walk or sit in the park. Go outside and soak up the sunshine. This will help adjust your internal clock.

Follow healthy eating habits. Don’t overdose on caffeine or alcohol. Both can affect your sleeping habits.

Keep moving. Exercise, even in small amounts, will help you feel better and have more energy. If you’re limited to indoor activities, try walking up and down the stairs, doing simple yoga moves, or even dancing to your favorite music.

social contact. Stay connected with friends or family. Call, email or text these connections. Connecting with other people can also help improve your mood.

SOURCE: Sleep Foundation; Northwestern Medicine; University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; National Institute of General Medical Sciences; Mayo Clinic and USA Today Research

Special to Janie Haseman/USA Today

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