Fall Back: Daylight Saving Time Ends and the Winter Blues Begin

While I was growing up, my mom always had a speech prepared dictating what was and what was not good for my health. Too much caffeine, not enough caffeine, too much sleep, not enough sleep, too much sugar, not enough sugar: the list goes on and on. Mom is a nurse, you see. So I wasn’t surprised that when I called my mom to explain how difficult of a time I was having lately, she responded with “it’s because of daylight saving time.” In the three-hour conversation (yes, three hours on one topic), I learned a lot from my dear mother. Although it is only an hour, the time change seems to have a huge affect on our health. Here are the top 3 health concerns connected to the time change:

1. Exhaustion

At the beginning of November, everyone was posting on Facebook about their excitement for gaining an extra hour of sleep. It turns out that maybe this wasn’t such a good thing after all. While the one hour time change is subtle, our bodies take notice of it. The sudden change to routine makes us tired but restless at the same time. During the winter months, our internal clocks get a little confused and our bodies react in many different ways. This is, of course, only true if you had a normal sleep routine in the first place. In that case, university students may feel the interruption to internal clocks a little less than others. Nonetheless, sleep deprivation and exhaustion are leading on the list of things our poor bodies must endure after the time change. Some research even suggests that our bodies aren’t getting the amount of nutrition needed to stay healthy in the Winter months. From lack of Vitamin D (bye bye Sun) to being stuck in the house all day, the time change adds some serious stress on our bodies.

  1. Depression

We already know that the winter months are a drag, but there may be more to this than originally thought. Losing an hour of afternoon sunlight, besides confusing our bodies into feeling like it’s bedtime at 5:30 pm, also has a lasting impression on our mental health. It turns out that there are more cases of diagnosed depression (8% higher says research) after the autumnal time change. Shorter days, less time spent outside, and the usual season stress are all related factors of this phenomenon.  It is suggested that exercise, light therapy lamps, and cognitive behavioral therapy can help fight the winter blues. For those of us who are about to be thrown into final assignments, midterms, and exams, these suggestions may not be possible. In that case, open the curtains while you’re studying! Go for a short walk outside or even take a few moments to stretch. Your body and mind will thank you!

  1. Lack of Socialization

If you’re anything like me, I try to avoid going outside in the cold as much as possible. Making it to my classes is a huge accomplishment in the winter months. It’s a danger zone out there! Ice on the hills, snow drifts make their way up into my coat uninvited, the freezing wind slaps my face…it’s just a lot of effort. So when I can (finally!) come back home to my nice warm bed, you better believe I’m not leaving again until I absolutely must. Unfortunately, this mindset I tend to have makes me miss out on a lot of social interactions. What is worse is that the more I stay away from people, the more I want to stay away. It becomes tiresome to even try and socialize. How does this connect with daylight saving time? When the day is suddenly shorter and half of it is spent climbing up a hill in the snow to get home, going back out is probably not at the top of your priority list. Additionally, the lack of socialization you may be experiencing is most definitely connected to reason numbers one and two on this list. Exhaustion and depression do not make for a socializing mood. Which, in turn, leads to more depression.

Are these health concerns directly related to the time change? Well, the answer is yes….and no. While it is true that these health issues become more prominent after the time change, it is not the time change that causes them (I mean, come on. That’s just silly). These are all symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Unlike Major Depressive Disorder, SAD begins in the late fall and typically lasts for the duration of the winter. There are cases of SAD that occur in the spring (after the time change, in fact) and can last into the summer, but it is less likely. People with SAD will show many of the same warning signs as those with depression such as: sleeping issues, appetite and weight changes, less energy, trouble concentrating, and increased desire to be alone. Just because these symptoms tend to go away after the season, this does not mean that Seasonal Affective Disorder is less severe compared to others. It’s normal to feel a little down during the winter season, but if it lasts for days at a time and you’re struggling to live your life normally, it is important to seek help! Take care of yourself (wow do I ever sound like my mother). Brighter days are ahead!