What is Daylight Savings Time (DST)? Essentially, DST is when the government adjusts time (by an hour). The second Sunday in March, Americans “spring forward,” while the first Sunday in November we “fall back.” We just fell back on Sunday, Nov. 2, 2020. Anyone who was feeling stressed due to the pandemic or the upcoming presidential election may feel worse now since the sun sets an hour earlier.
Our bodies have an internal clock known as the Circadian rhythm, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats on every rotation of the Earth (roughly every 24 hours). When people change the time, even by a mere hour, it disturbs our Circadian rhythm. This may make it harder for people to sleep. “And when we don’t sleep well, our immune system can suffer, making us more prone to illness,” said Gregory Ragland, PhD, professor in the Integrative Biology Department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
If you felt sluggish, sad, or “off” last week, the change in time may have caused or contributed to those feelings. For some people, the early sunset in the fall and winter months can even lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately abbreviated as SAD). According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “In most cases, SAD symptoms start in the late fall or early winter and go away during the spring and summer; this is known as winter-pattern SAD or winter depression.”
Thankfully, there are some easy things you can do to help get your body and mind accustomed to the shorter days. Kristin Kushmider, PhD, assistant vice chancellor of Health, Wellness, Advocacy and Support at CU Denver, recommends “keeping your mealtimes, especially dinner, consistent with your current schedule. Try to eat more protein such as nuts, fish, etc. and cut back on the carbs your body is likely craving this time of year as we manage both the shorter days and the colder weather.”
Get some natural sunlight every day, especially in the morning. Research shows that early morning sun exposure is especially helpful for people with SAD. Sunlight is thought to increase serotonin, a mood-lifting hormone.
Mild, moderate, or intense exercise can alleviate the “down” or “off” feeling that gets intensified by DST and shorter winter days. Medical and mental health professionals have established that exercise can boost feel-good endorphins and break the anxiety loop in the brain.
Even artificial light can improve people’s moods. A light box, developed to boost a person’s mood by providing light without harmful UV radiation, is a great solution at a relatively low cost. See the Mayo Clinic’s article on how to choose a light therapy box.
When it’s dark, your body produces melatonin, a brain hormone that helps you sleep. Anything that emits blue light—televisions, smart phones, computer monitors—tricks your brain into not producing melatonin, which makes it harder to sleep. Avoid blue light before bedtime, so your body can follow its natural sleep-wake cycle.