November 03, 2016

By Bob Carolla


Both pros and cons can occur as a result of changing the clocks. But no matter what your stance is on Daylight Saving Time (DST), it’s important to be prepared for the potential effect on your mental health. The time change is happening across the U.S. (apart from Arizona) this Sunday Nov. 6 at 2 a.m. as we “fall back” to standard time.

Pros of DST

DST can help to reduce crime and promote outdoor recreation as it adds an extra hour of sunshine to our waking day. Also, this extra hour of daylight in the morning is generally beneficial to people living with depression.

It’s also helpful for commutes to work and school. Without this time change, school children would walk to school and wait for the bus in the dark.

Cons of DST

On the other hand, turning the clock back can impact a person’s circadian rhythm or “biological clock” affecting everything from sleep patterns to hormone levels. In addition to the immediate adjustment that can lead to issues, fewer hours of daylight during winter overall—regardless of DST—can also be a challenge.

For some people living with depression or other mood disorders, the approach of the changeover is a time of dread—symbolically marking the start of the dark season when seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may kick-in.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression, usually in late fall and winter, alternating with periods of normal or high mood the rest of the year.  Although some individuals do not necessarily show these symptoms, the classic characteristics of recurrent winter depression include oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving and weight gain. Additionally, many people may experience other features of depression including decreased sexual interest, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in normal activities and decreased socialization.

SAD requires a broader, long-term plan of action and may involve light therapy using “a light box” for a period each day. As always, consult your doctor both about symptoms and treatment options.

How to be Prepared

In order to make the adjustment smoother, here are some basic recommendations:

  • Go to bed on Saturday and get up on Sunday at the usual times.
  • Make sure to draw bedroom blinds—sunrise will occur an hour early.
  • As soon as you wake up, expose yourself to daylight.
  • Maintain the rest of your normal Sunday schedule, including mealtimes.

So enjoy the extra hour of sleep this Sunday (and try not to show up to anything too early).

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