Is Daylight Savings Time Making You Crazy?

Daylight Savings Time (DST) is an item again, as we all try to remember “Spring forward, Fall back”.  Many people complain of difficulty sleeping, or getting enough sleep, and also of depressive episodes associated with “falling back” in November.

In our clinical practice, the main thing we have observed year after year, is sleep disruption, which is especially problematic for those who are already struggling with sleep patterns and/or insomnia.  Our advice is: don’t make a sudden change in your sleeping or waking time.  Even one hour’s change can bring disruption into your sleep pattern for up to three weeks at this time of year.

Work into the time change gradually, if possible starting a few days ahead of the actual time change.  Don’t think in terms of “getting an extra hour of sleep” since that is not really happening, you’re just shifting when your sleep pattern falls within the seasonal pattern of light and dark hours.

Research results

For such a contentious topic, it is surprising that there is so little definitive research relating to time changes associated with Daylight Savings.  Even the economic and energy saving benefits are hotly contested, and everyone can choose the results that shore up their own opinion.  The psychological effects of time changes are even more hotly debated and even less well documented, except for a few main points.

A study in Denmark found a rise in diagnoses of unipolar depression during the first three weeks after the autumn time change.  Researchers hypothesize that going off Daylight Savings reminds people of the cold, gray weeks and months ahead and that reminder causes moods to deteriorate.  Some clinicians even claim that Daylight Savings is wholly responsible for Seasonal Affective Depression (SAD), saying that it is the abrupt change to darker evenings that creates the environment in which depression can take root.

How to survive the November time change:

Take care of your physical health.  Don’t let your exercise routine slide just because there aren’t any more long, light evenings.  Don’t let the increased evening darkness hours encourage you to binge on carbs, dieting is not just for summer time!

Get outside as much as possible during the day.  Park your car a bit farther away from your destination, so you can walk in the brisk Fall air.  Enjoy the signs of autumn, breathe the crisp air.  Even if you can’t get outside, sit by a window, and absorb as much sunshine as you can.

Be aware of your body’s circadian rhythms and don’t make drastic changes to your daily schedule.  Reduce screen time before bedtime and keep your “sleep hygiene” routines going strong.