Most folks groan when the time comes to either “spring forward” or “fall back” an hour, with the waxing and waning of daylight saving time. But that one-hour time shift — which occurs at 2 a.m. Sunday — is more than just a minor annoyance, sleep experts say. As clocks are turned back an hour this weekend and it gets dark earlier, many people will begin grappling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
The disorder — also known as winter or seasonal depression — affects up to 5% of Americans, but rates are much higher in Northern U.S. states (10%) than in Southern states (1%).
“It helps to remember that these shortened, colder days are only temporary,” Dr. Itai Danovitch, professor and chairman of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles says. “Those who suffer from seasonal depression should take an active role in managing their symptoms, but can also look forward to longer days as the seasons turn.”
Research has also shown that deliberately messing with our internal clock twice a year increases our risk of accident, illness and death.
You might think that switching back and forth from daylight saving time would be no different than the jet lag you experience flying across the country, but Erin Flynn-Evans, director of the NASA Ames Research Center Fatigue Countermeasures Laboratory, in Mountain View, Calif says that’s just not so.
“With real jet lag, you travel across time zones, which means your exposure to sunlight matches better the time zone you’re in,” she says. “When we just change our clocks but stay in the same time zone, it’s harder for our bodies to adapt because the sun doesn’t change. We’re just changing our clocks.”
Symptoms of SAD
Symptoms of SAD can include:
- changes in sleep, mood, appetite and energy levels
- loss of interest in activities
- difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- self-critical thoughts
Treatment for SAD
Getting a professional diagnosis is an important first step in easing SAD with treatments such as