The “Fall Back “ Blues
Although it has been a few weeks since we “fell back” from daylight saving time (DST) to standard time, we are all probably still feeling the effects of the sun setting earlier. You might be feeling more tired or sad and you are not alone. The fall time change not only makes cold winter days seem even darker, but this change also affects our circadian rhythms and can have profound effects on mental health.
Originally, DST was thought up not by farmers as is widely accepted, but by an Englishman named William Willet in 1907 as a way to maximize productivity during the light hours of the day. This idea was rolled out during WWI and again during WWII to reduce energy consumption and has been used to varying degrees across North America ever since (Old Farmer’s Almanac, 2020). Now, since most of us are lucky enough to not be at war, DST is considered a mild inconvenience: however, recent studies have shown a link between the fall time change and episodes of depression.
A study from Denmark found that the incidence of depression diagnoses the month after switching from DST to standard time is 8% higher than would be expected compared to cases prior to the switch (Hensen et al., 2017). This study confirmed a link between switching from DST to standard time and an incidence of depressive episodes. A 2019 study also elaborated on potential circadian disruptions and health risks associated with the fall time change (Malow, Veatch & Bagai, 2019). A depressive episode can range from mild to extremely severe and can include symptoms like fatigue, difficulty concentrating and loss of interest in daily activities. In addition to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as well as anxieties amidst a global pandemic, the fall time change could amplify rates of depression this year.
With all of these findings, this winter could seem dark and never ending, but there are ways to alleviate symptoms of time change related negative mental health symptoms. First off, light therapy can be a cool option for those who struggle with seeing enough sunlight or getting up in the morning. The idea is that the box emits light at a specific wavelength to mimic natural light and by sitting in front of it, it can help to increase the “happy” chemicals in our brains (Mayo Clinic, 2017). One downside to the light box is that they can be costly for many and are not always covered by insurance, so other options include regular exercise, practicing mindfulness and spending time with loved ones (even if it is over video chat for the time being). Outdoor exercise can be especially impactful, which is great, since outdoor activities tend to allow for easier social distancing in these pandemic times, so they can often be done safely with a buddy.
Ultimately, the shift from DST to standard time in November is affecting our mental health intensely. This may be why Ontario researchers and lawmakers are pushing to eliminate daylight saving time all together. We’ll have to watch and see how those conversations play out, but for now, we can enjoy our 4pm sunsets.
Old Farmer’s Almanac (2020). Daylight Saving Time 2020: When Does the Time Change. Retrieved Dec 6, 2020. https://www.almanac.com/content/when-daylight-saving-time
Hansen, B.T et al. (2017). Daylight Savings Time Transitions and the Incidence Rate of Unipolar Depressive Episodes. Retrieved Dec 6, 2020. DOI: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000580
Malow, B.A., Veatch, O.J., Bagai, K. (2019). Are Daylight Saving Time CHanges Bad for the Brain? Retrieved Dec 6, 2020. DOI: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2019.3780
Mayo Clinic (2017). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Retrieved Dec 6, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20364722