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DST & SAD


Category: Behavioral Problems

As the debate about whether or not we should abolish Daylight Saving Time (DST) rages on, that’s not going to stop it from happening now.  Or, for that matter, stop the effects this time change will have on your sleep schedule and overall health.  Originally, the idea of preserving daylight seemed perfectly logical.  After all, how much can a one hour shift really disrupt daily living?  Well, as it turns out, “falling behind” may not be worth that extra hour of sleep you get on November 5th.

This biannual occurrence actually has a profound effect not just on our sleep schedule, but also the underlying circadian rhythm.  Our circadian rhythm is basically our internal clock, which tells us when to get up, when to eat, and when to sleep.  Though it sounds simple, it’s actually a complicated system of hormones that feeds off of external signals including light, temperature, and nutrients.  Expecting it to adjust to an hour-long shift overnight is simply unrealistic.  For many parts of the country, November also signals another seasonal change, from fall to winter.  With such rapid changes to two of the primary factors affecting the circadian clock, it’s no wonder everyone feels off balance in the weeks following DST.  From a societal standpoint, a number of observable occurrences surround this event, both in March and in November.  From crime levels to accidents (traffic and physical) to heart attacks and strokes, there’s a definite spike in negative health effects immediately following DST.  When we narrow our focus to mental health, though, the impact becomes a little less obvious.

In part, this is due to a lack of research.  Previously, studies focused on general health, rather than psychological health, in their subjects, and it wasn’t until recently that they started to consider the influence of DST on specific mental health issues.  Looking at the body of available research, for every case study that showed an increase in behavioral health-related hospitalizations following the time change, there’s another that documents no significant difference.  Obviously the impact isn’t as visibly dramatic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.  Children seem to feel the shift more keenly, since schools record a number of negative effects following their altered sleep schedule—especially for teenagers.  Similarly, those with depression appear to be more at risk before and after DST, regardless of their age.  “Sleeping later in the morning is associated with depression, particularly in women. It makes sense, then, that a government proscribed regimen of sleeping later could increase the risk of depression, and a recent large study seems to confirm this, with an 11% increase in hospitalizations for depression in the weeks after the daylight savings transition to standard time in Denmark.”  If you want to learn more about this, visit: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201611/your-brain-daylight-savings.  It’s not simply standard depression that we need to worry about at this time of year, though, but rather a seasonally-specific variety.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, exhibits symptoms similar to its general counterpart, but it appears to be triggered by the transition to shorter, colder days associated with winter in the northern hemisphere.  To date, approximately 1.7 billion people worldwide deal with SAD in some form.  While studies have yet to confirm the physiological connection between the reduced exposure to sunlight and SAD, others tracked the increase in depression-related hospitalizations in the month following the end of DST.  Recent research conducted by a Danish team even “controlled for variable like day length and weather, which they say confirms that the 8 percent rise in depression diagnoses was not a coincidence.”  They also theorize that DST acts as a negative portend.  Since the time change announces the beginning of winter and precedes an immediate increase in darkness, it can, in fact, be a trigger that instigates SAD.  To read more on this study, click here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/88113/daylight-saving-time-blame-seasonal-depression.

Fortunately, seasonal depression is treatable, especially with the right combination of psychotherapy and light therapy.  They sell light therapy boxes in a variety of retailers now that mimic the effects of actual sunlight.  Daily exposure to them for 30 minutes of so can help stave off the symptoms of depression.  Depending on the severity of your SAD, your doctor may also recommend the use of antidepressants, cognitive-based therapy, and/or taking a vacation to somewhere warm and sunny.  This type of disorder can be just as disruptive to your life as general depression, so don’t simply wait until daylight saving time starts again for your symptoms to subside.  Talk about your struggles today and get the help you need.

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