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Does Daylight Savings Make You Feel Sad?

written by Skye Sherman - Mar 27, 2023
medically reviewed by Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Oct 10, 2023

Photo Credit: by Alisa Anton,
Photo Credit: by Alisa Anton,

Feeling blue with the change of seasons? You’re not alone.

While many people prefer the time change because it creates daylight hours until later in the day, adjusting to the time change can be difficult depending on your routine and mood. Just when you’ve gotten used to the day and night cycles, it changes again.

In fact, some scientists say that daylight savings time simply is not healthy. While it can have harmful effects on overall health, one of the main symptoms is depression.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how daylight savings time impacts your health and its link to seasonal mood changes, including depression.

Is daylight savings time unhealthy for our bodies?

While daylight savings time does give you more light in the evening, it does not actually add any daylight to your day; it just switches it from morning to evening. While many people prefer this because they like to have some daylight left when they get off of work, it’s not actually ideal for our biological clocks.

As Science News explains it, “When we move our clocks forward an hour, noon no longer represents when the sun is near its highest point in the sky. Suddenly, people’s schedules are “solarly” out of sync.”

And that’s a big deal biologically because “Humans evolved with a daily cycle of light and dark. That sets the rhythms of our bodies, from when we sleep and wake to when hormones are released. Morning light, in particular, is a key wake-up signal. When we tinker with time … we’re essentially making the choice: Do we want to go with what we’ve evolved with, or do we want to alter that?”

As you can see, while it’s fun to have extra time to play in the evenings, having less light in the mornings can dramatically affect our ability to wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and to feel the proper amount of energy at the proper time in the morning.

While it’s nice that it’s still light out late into the evening, think about how you feel when you’re getting up in the morning: isn’t it much worse during daylight savings time, when it’s still pitch-black at the time you’re usually arising along with a peaceful sunrise?

And, in fact, it can have dramatic impacts on physical health. The article continues: “Scientists have linked sleep loss, heart attacks and an increased risk of dying in the hospital after a stroke to the transition to daylight saving time.”

In addition, when “dark mornings and light evenings mean people’s body clocks don’t line up with the sun,” the mismatch in our biological clocks and what’s happening in our environment “can hamper sleep, making for drowsy drivers, which may factor into collisions.”

As you can see, the harm of daylight savings time is a major factor to consider as lawmakers deliberate on whether or not to make it permanent in most of the United States. However, that’s not all. It’s also a major determining factor in our moods and even levels of depression, both seasonal and year-round.

How daylight savings time affects depression

While daylight savings time can have a negative effect on our overall health, some say it’s better for those who struggle with depression since there is more light at the end of the day.

As VeryWellMind explains it, “As we transition into winter and the days get shorter and darker, many individuals struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Less exposure to sunlight disrupts our circadian rhythms and causes both a drop in serotonin and spike in melatonin, which can lead to feelings of drowsiness and depression.”

While there is not actually less sunlight during daylight savings time, it can feel that way since the day ends earlier and darkness sets in earlier. If people are not up early enough in the day to feel the difference at the beginning of the day, they will certainly feel it at the end of the day when the sun goes down in what can still feel like the middle of the day. Also, Cortisol, which is released in the mornings follows a circadian rhythm and helps to energize us and get us ready for the day. Cortisol production is affected by our sleep cycle and can also make symptoms of depression more likely during daylight savings.

Many people turn to anti-depressants for help coping during these seasonal changes and during the more trying times of life. Seeing a doctor can be a good idea if you are concerned about your sadness levels, whether during the seasonal time changes or at any time of year, including the holidays (which can also be disruptive to your usual patterns).

Being diagnosed with depression can be a relief because it means that help is on the way. For some patients, a qualified physician may prescribe a drug like Vortioxetine (which goes by the brand name Trintellix in Canada and the United States) or Bupropion (which you may know as (Wellbutrin XL or Wellbutrin SR) if they feel it’s the right fit for you.

Hoping to minimize the disruption to your routine when you “spring forward” or “fall back” and move your clocks back or forward by an hour?

According to CNN, some experts recommend adjusting to the change more gradually by planning ahead: “For folks who are adjusting their clocks, the body isn’t going to like getting up an hour earlier, so it’s best to start adapting by going to bed and waking up 15 to 20 minutes earlier each day for four or more days before the change, experts say.”

You may need to adjust other “cues” in your daily routine such as meals, exercise times, medications, and more. Night owls especially will want to make a plan to ease themselves into the upcoming time changes.

If you can minimize disruptions to your sleep, wake, and eating patterns, this can have a positive effect on your mood as well by easing your body into the new daylight cycle.

The article also says that getting bright morning light in your eyes for 20 to 30 minutes soon after waking up can also be a huge help. This triggers your brain and sends signals to your body that’s it’s time to be awake and start your day.

Another tip to get better sleep during the changing times (and any time, really) is to avoid exposure to blue light for at least an hour before bedtime. This includes TV, laptops, smartphones, gaming devices, and all other electronics. Keep them out of your bedroom and away from your eyes when you’re trying to wind down for sleep.

Instead, read a book or magazine by soft lamp light as you drink a warming cup of chamomile tea and ease into your nighttime routine.

Along with diet and nutrition, sleep, which is greatly affected by the time changes, is a huge determining factor in your mood and risk for depression. When you feel like you’re dragging and are tired and sluggish, this impacts your mood and is linked to depression. But if you’re feeling energized and ready to take on the day, your mood should follow along with it.



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