The Effects Daylight Saving Time Has on Mental Health


The end of daylight saving time (DST) in the Fall may mean you get an extra hour of sleep, but it also means you lose an hour of afternoon daylight and the days become shorter. Losing that hour of afternoon daylight can have a mental effect on individuals. A person’s level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, decreases when there is less sunlight which can lead to symptoms of depression. Individuals who already experience depression could have a higher likelihood of suffering from cognitive impairment or have a harder time answering questions and thinking critically. Studies have shown that there was an 11% increase in depression cases after the time change and those cases gradually decreased after 10 weeks. Studies have also shown that male suicide rates increased the days following the spring and fall daylight saving time shift. One common mental illness that DST can trigger is seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Individuals with SAD usually follow the same pattern every year: feeling depressed during the fall and winter but feeling good the rest of the year. They may also experience the following symptoms.

  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Have zero interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Eating more, especially carbohydrates
  • Getting too much sleep
  • Feeling tired or lacking energy
  • Feeling restless
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Having a hard time making decisions or concentrating
  • Having thoughts about death or suicide

What exactly causes SAD? The human body has an internal clock known as the circadian rhythm. It cycles us through daily periods of sleep and wakefulness. This clock is set based upon our exposure to sunlight. Once light enters our eyes, our brain receives a message saying it is time to wake up. When it becomes dark outside, our brain then receives a hormonal signal letting it know it is time to go to sleep. When fall and winter come around, the days become shorter and that internal body clock may become disrupted due to the lack of sunlight we are exposed to. This is in turn can lead to the symptoms of SAD. Women tend to be diagnosed with SAD four times more often than men. Young adults and individuals with a family history of other types of depression are also more likely to experience SAD.

Treatments for SAD

  • Medications
    –     Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): a type of antidepressants, such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa
    –     Wellbutrin
  • Psychotherapy
    –     Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): helps individuals recognize their negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.
    –     CBT-SAD: adds a technique called behavioral activation to the usual CBT techniques. These techniques help individuals find activities they enjoy that can help them cope better with winter.
  • Light Therapy
    –     Involves sitting in front of a lightbox every day as soon as you wake up.
    –     A lightbox emits light that mimics what you would usually get from the natural morning sunlight. This light is adjusted to provide you with the right amount of intensity and frequency of light that is needed to reset your body clock, allowing for symptoms to be corrected.

Tips to Keep in Mind During DST

  • Get as much sunlight as possible by going on walks or even sitting by a window that allows natural light to shine in.
  • Keep active by exercising or spending time with friends, family, or volunteering.
  • Choose the food you eat wisely. Sugary treats and high carb foods have been shown to have negative effects on mood. Instead, try eating more protein-rich and fatty foods, such as avocado, lean meats, and coconut oil to help balance blood sugar and balance moods.

Some people are able to make the transition more easily than others during DST, and some are affected much worse than others. If you are experiencing depression whether it’s due to DST or other factors and want to avoid medications, GatewayTMS is here to help. We offer Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to relieve the symptoms you are feeling without having to take antidepressants. If you feel like this is the right direction for you to take, contact us today at (314) 909-8487.