How to deal with less sunlight after daylight saving time is over

Key points

  • Daylight saving time usually ends in the first week of November.
  • Reverse the clock for one hour to effectively reduce sunlight exposure, which will have a serious negative impact on mental health.
  • Daylight saving time is already associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and experts say that the situation in 2020 will only exacerbate symptoms.

Daylight saving time (DST) ends in November, which means that when we dial the clock back, we lose an hour of sunlight. Although this practice was implemented in the United States nearly 100 years ago as a means of saving energy, it turns out that an extra hour of darkness is harmful to mental health.

“Natural light helps our emotions,” said Amy Morin, a psychotherapist at LCSW. “It has a big impact on how we feel.”

Seasonal affective disorder

As we transition into winter, the days become shorter and darker, and many people are struggling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Reducing exposure to the sun disrupts our circadian rhythm, leading to a drop in serotonin and a surge in melatonin, which can lead to feelings of sleepiness and depression.

“This is a unique emotional disorder because it is a direct result of weather and location,” said Julian Lagoi, MD. “In southern states, the incidence of seasonal affective disorder is very low, while in northern states such as Alaska, the incidence is much higher. This is because we rely on sunlight for our physical and mental health.”

Julian Lagoy, MD

This is a unique emotional disorder because it is a direct result of weather and location.

— Julian Lagoy, MD

Studies have shown that daylight saving time can have a big impact on this situation. A 2017 study found that hospital admissions for depression peaked directly after time changes.

Symptoms of SAD may include difficulty concentrating, increased appetite, excessive sleep, weight gain, and irritability and sadness. “During the day, if you don’t have much sunlight and physical activity, all these factors are the perfect recipe for winter depression,” said Morin.

preventive solution

Even after the end of daylight saving time, all hope was not lost. Morin reminds us that if you know that you are more likely to feel frustrated in winter, it is important to be proactive. There are some strategies to help you deal with SAD emotions.

Lagoy’s suggested practices include exercise, eating well, and simple practices like opening all the blinds in the living space to optimize natural lighting. If there is not much natural light, consider buying a phototherapy lamp.

In many studies, phototherapy lamps have been shown to be effective in treating SAD. Morin recommends that the first thing in the morning is to get the most out of the sun, whether it’s going outdoors or turning on phototherapy lights. “This can help wake up the brain and release all these feel-good chemicals that help fight depression and make you feel happier,” said Morin.

It is also important to make time during your week to complete pleasant tasks. Writing these events physically into your calendar can have a huge impact on mental health—giving yourself something to look forward to can initiate a domino effect that improves mood.

“When you actually do that, your emotions will get a second boost,” Maureen said, “and then after you create a positive memory, your emotions will get a third boost.”

Should daylight saving time be retained?

Over the years, the concept of DST has become more and more controversial, and many people think it is outdated. The European Union even voted to abandon the 2021 daylight saving time earlier this year.

Amy Morin, LCSW

From a security point of view, this is disturbing. Considering its impact on people’s mental health, I can’t imagine too many reasons why we should keep daylight saving time now.

—Amy Morin, LCSW

In addition to the increased experience of depression when withdrawing from DST, the beginning of DST (March) also brought its own problems. Studies have shown that changes in spring time are related to lack of sleep and an increase in fatal car accidents.

What this means to you

If you know that seasonal depression is prone to occur when going back in time, please actively adopt coping strategies. Exercise, diet, and time spent outdoors all have a positive impact on mood and mental health. At least, phototherapy lamps can help you through the cold winter.