How Does The End Of Daylight Savings Time Affect Our Mood?


How Does The End Of Daylight Savings Time Affect Our Mood?

Holly Phillips, MD
By Holly Phillips, MD
Oct 30, 2020
How Does The End Of Daylight Savings Time Affect Our Mood?

As temperatures drop and the sun takes its hiatus, many of us succumb to the winter blues. For some, it feels like sluggishness or a loss of enthusiasm, but for others, the effects are far more profound. Seasonal Affective Disorder, perhaps appropriately abbreviated as SAD, is a legitimate psychological condition with a wide range of potentially debilitating symptoms.

An estimated 1 in 5 Americans get the winter blues, yet a formal diagnosis of SAD requires depressive episodes coinciding with the fall and winter months for at least two years according to Harvard Medical School.

Symptoms can include feelings of:

  • hopelessness
  • change in weight or appetite
  • insomnia
  • sluggishness
  • memory problems
  • disinterest in activities that you once enjoyed

The discovery of seasonal depressive disorders and SAD is relatively recent—it was first suggested by South African-born psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal in the early ‘80s—and much about it is still not fully understood. Genetics can contribute, and so can behavior and diet. Women are twice as likely to suffer from SAD than men. People in their 20s and 30s seem to be more susceptible than older adults.

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What does Daylight Savings Time have to do with Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Winter seasonal mood changes and SAD are thought to result from a biochemical imbalance in the brain that is triggered by decreased exposure to sunlight. After Daylight Savings Time ends each Fall, many of us find ourselves headed to work or school in the dark and heading home after the sun has gone down again.
The lack of sunshine affects our circadian rhythms and our body chemistry, causing the brain to overproduce the sleep hormone melatonin and restrict the production of the mood-stabilizing hormone serotonin.

Not surprisingly, people who live in the North where winter sunlight is in the shortest supply are more likely to suffer from SAD. Up to ten percent of Alaskans suffer from SAD, compared to less than two percent of Floridians.

Even though sleep deprivation related to Daylight Savings Time is not as much of an issue with the Fall time change as compared to the Spring, the shift in our body’s clock can play a role in seasonal mood changes.

Will Covid-19 have an effect on seasonal mood changes this year?

As the pandemic stretches into the winter months, COVID-19 is likely to continue to impact both our physical and mental health. As the winter chill sets in, our motivation to seek COVID-19 safe outdoor activities may wane -- a perfect setup for seasonal mood repercussions.

Cases of depression have increased since the start of the pandemic, lessened social interactions, job loss, and financial concerns, fear of illness, and civil unrest are just a few of the many concerns which may weigh on us daily, worsening or triggering symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Do we lose sleep with the end of Daylight Savings Time and how long does it take to adjust?

Even though sleep deprivation related to Daylight Savings Time is not as much of an issue with the Fall time change as compared to the Spring (an extra hour of slumber is a welcome treat for most of us), the shift in our body’s clock can play a role in seasonal mood changes. It can take several weeks for our bodies to adjust to shift.

What can we do to minimize the effects of the end of Daylight Savings Time on our mood?

Knowledge is power when it comes to our overall health. Identifying these risks allows us to act early to mitigate symptoms or stop them before they start.

1. Maximize Light

Use every bit of daylight you can. whether that’s taking a walk at lunch or just keeping the blinds open at your desk. Light therapy boxes mimic the natural rays of the sun and, research suggests, can help combat symptoms of SAD.

A good lightbox will provide an exposure of 10,000 lux of light (on a sunny day, the sun emits 50,000 lux) and emits very little UV light.

For light therapy to be effective, it's best to use the box for about 30 minutes within an hour of waking up.

Consult your doctor about whether using a lightbox is right for you, especially if you are taking antibiotics, have bipolar disorder or have suffered from eye problems like cataracts or glaucoma.

The devices aren’t regulated by the FDA and, according to the Mayo Clinic, some people may find them more effective when combined with counseling or antidepressants.

In 2006, Wellbutrin XR became the first drug approved by the FDA specifically for the prevention of winter depression. Don’t forget to utilize RxSaver for the best prices on all of your prescription medications.

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2. Eat for Energy

When facing the winter blues it’s tempting to binge on sugars and carbohydrates for a quick pick-me-up—and the winter holidays offer a surplus of both.

But ultimately the energy boost from candy, cookies and processed carbs is likely to be short lived, leaving you depleted and down. Focus on lean proteins (chicken, turkey, fish) and foods rich in folic acid (spinach, lentils, oranges) and omega-3 fatty acids (walnuts, flaxseed, salmon). A study found that people with higher levels of omega-3s were less likely to experience mild to moderate depression.

And if you’re not getting your Vitamin D from the sun, your body can also absorb the “sunshine vitamin” through foods like milk, fish, egg yolks and mushrooms.

3. Stay Active

Instead of succumbing to the couch, move by any means necessary. Exercise releases endorphins, provides incremental goals, and combats lethargy, depression and anxiety.

A meta-analysis found that, for some people, exercise is as effective as therapy or antidepressants for treating depression. If lifting weights isn’t your thing, try yoga or meditation.

4. Stay Connected

Even though holiday travel and gatherings may be curtailed this year, meaningful connections with friends and family don’t have to be. While we may feel inclined to isolate when we’re not feeling our best, doing so is counterproductive to feeling better.

Whether it’s device-free family time, digital gatherings, or a masked walk in the park with a friend, time spent socializing is a well-documented mood booster.

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What should I do if I’m still anxious after two weeks?

Seasonal mood shifts, like all psychological concerns, should be addressed right away. If you’re experiencing new symptoms of anxiety or depression for more than ten days, or you feel like your day-to-day functioning is being affected, reach out to your health care provider.

Today, perhaps more than in recent memory, it can seem as though we’re faced with many things we can’t change – The onset of winter is certainly one of them. Recognizing symptoms early and prioritizing emotional self-care, sets us in motion to feel our best year-round.

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Holly Phillips, MD

Holly Phillips, MD

Dr. Holly Phillips, a Board-Certified General Internist in private practice, is a journalist, author, television contributor, and medical expert for RxSaver. Featured regularly across multiple media outlets, Dr. Phillips first gained nationwide recognition as a Medical Contributor to CBS News and “Core Member” of the Dr. Oz Show. Frequently quoted in print, she has been a contributing editor for Prevention, and appeared in feature articles for Vogue, Self, and others. Dr. Phillips is the author of the book, “The Exhaustion Breakthrough,” published by Rodale. Dr. Phillips obtained her medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and trained at Lenox Hill Hospital. In practice, she addresses all Internal Medicine Conditions with a focus on preventive women’s health. Dr. Phillips is well versed in the foundations of complementary and alternative medicine and views these ideas as integral to the practice of medicine today. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, two young daughters and Pug.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

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