Time Change: Fall Back

time changeThe time change in the United States is the classic “time of challenge and time of opportunity.”

First, the challenge – If you wanted to do something to make America more depressed you would be hard pressed to come up with a better intervention. Shift everyone’s schedule so that they wake up an hour later (according to the solar clock) during a time when the shorter days have already reduced exposure to morning light and tended to shift those who are vulnerable into a “hibernation” mode that looks a lot like depression.

The opportunity – So many of the people we have been working with have been complaining that they just can’t get up early enough… even though they know it would improve their mood… give them a chance to practice the “Morning Routine” and get some bright light exposure. Well, if you simply wake up at the same time (according to the solar clock) by getting up on Sunday and hour earlier than you would ordinarily do (according to the mechanical clock) you will have shifted your wake up time with minimal effort.

So, let’s take an example. Justin has been struggling to get up at 7 am for a month. He knows that if he got up at 7 am this would give him plenty of time to get his bright light exposure (45 minutes a day of therapy light) and to plan for his day in a thoughtful way, which would make him feel better all day. But honestly he has rarely been able to get out of bed before 7:45 am since the days started to get shorter.

On Sunday Justin can get out of bed at what would have been 7:45 am (OK we get that the Sunday piece of it is hard… but it might be a small price to pay for a successful transition in schedule that could make the rest of your winter more pleasant) but now is 6:45 am. And from now on (without actually making a change that his body clock should notice) he is up early enough to do the things he needs to to have a good day.

Or an alternative example, next week I will almost without a doubt have a clinic filled with people who are inexplicably more depressed, they took “advantage” of the extra hour to sleep in on Sunday, but actually by switching their wake up times later (by the sun) in the day they have done something that is one of the most reliable interventions to increase depression – phase delayed their sleep cycle.