On Sunday, about a quarter of the world’s population will turn their clocks back one hour in compliance with daylight saving time (DST). While many may rejoice in the extra hour of sleep, others fear the time change.
In fact, about 71% of Americans want to end daylight saving time, according to a survey conducted by AP-NORC in 2019, and for good reason.
Research indicates that changing our clocks twice a year can have a variety of health consequences, mostly occurring in the spring due to the loss of an hour of sleep. However, the clock change in the fall is associated with a deterioration in mental health, experts tell Health.
“There seems to be more depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts around the time the clock changes, both in March and in the fall,” said David Merrill, MD, adult and geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Brain Health Center in the Pacific. Institute of Neurosciences, says Health.
Although DST does not necessarily cause mental health problems, such as depression or substance abuse, research suggests that it can exacerbate them. So if you have a pre-existing mental health condition or are more susceptible to anxiety or depression, it’s worth knowing how DST can affect you; That way, you can take precautionary measures to take care of your mental health.
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The Ways Daylight Saving Time Affects Mental Health
Both the transition into and out of daylight saving time have been associated with sleep disruption, mood disorders and suicide, according to a statement from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
For example, a 2017 study published in Epidemiology looking at more than 185,000 hospital contacts for depression found that the transition from daylight saving time to standard time increased the number of hospital visits for depression by 11%. The study concluded that this may be due to anguish over an earlier sunset.
“Especially for people susceptible to being anxious or depressed, this change over time can trigger an episode of depression or anxiety,” says Dr. Merrill, who also notes that jet lag can exacerbate or increase the incidence of seasonal affective disorder. (APR). SAD is a type of depression that occurs seasonally, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and sometimes coincides with shorter and shorter days.
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Why going back an hour hurts mental health
While no one knows exactly why the transition from daylight saving time to standard time increases the incidence of depression and substance abuse, there are some theories.
One reason could be that the change in time disrupts circadian rhythms, also known as essential body functions that run on a 24-hour cycle. Circadian rhythms are more affected by jumping forward than backward, but any disruption can cause health problems, Joseph Takahashi, PhD, chair of the department of neuroscience at UTSouthwestern Medical Center, tells Health.
One of the best-known circadian rhythms is our sleep-wake cycle, which influences when we feel tired, fall asleep, and wake up. Even a one-hour break in our sleep schedule can have a significant impact on mood or increase anxiety, says Dr. Merrill.
Also, turning our clocks back an hour makes the sun go down earlier. Since most Americans operate on a 9-5 type of daily schedule, this means that the sun will already set and then slide past the horizon by the time they leave the office or return home from school.
“When we have less exposure to sunlight, our mood tends to drop,” says Dr. Merrill.
He believes this may be because the loss of sunlight in the afternoon decreases the time people spend outdoors. According to Dr. Merrill, research indicates that less time outdoors causes “… the mood-regulating centers in the brain to decrease in size and function.”
Also, when people spend most of the day indoors, they tend to be more sedentary, which can increase depression and anxiety, says Dr. Merrill.
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How To Improve Your Mood When Daylight Saving Time Ends And Standard Time Resumes
Typically in spring, you can prepare for the time change by adjusting your sleep schedule a few days in advance. However, because there are few ways to prepare your body to wake up later, the National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends that people go to bed and wake up at their usual time; just be sure to close the blinds as the sun will be out earlier.
However, there are ways to lessen the mental health impact of having less sun at night, says Dr. Merrill. This means adjusting your daily schedule or implementing healthy coping strategies like:
Spend the mornings outdoors. To compensate for the loss of light at night, Dr. Merrill recommends going for a walk first thing in the morning. “There is evidence that increased exposure to light, especially in the morning, can alleviate SAD symptoms,” says Takahashi.
Try light therapy. If you can’t wake up earlier, you may want to buy a light box, which is a common treatment option for SAD, says Dr. Merrill. Research indicates that light boxes are most effective when used in the morning.
Stay physically active. Studies have found that regular exercise has as much of an effect on mood as antidepressants, says Dr. Merrill. Therefore, be very diligent with the daily movement. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of aerobic activity weekly or 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.
However, if your mental health is affecting your quality of life, speak with your doctor, who can guide you through possible treatment options. You can also call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 24/7 helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you still feel depressed and sad even after trying to adjust to the time change. “We need to be kind to ourselves and to others, as we may not feel the way we usually feel. It is important to have self-compassion during this difficult time of year,” says Dr. Merrill.
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