Daylight Saving Time (DST) officially ends on Nov. 1. While that extra hour of sleep Saturday night might seem like a blessing, the lingering effects of a shift in daylight can wreak havoc on your sleep, energy and mood, especially in a pandemic year. Ejaz Shamim, MD, a board-certified neurologist with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group and chair of the Mid-Atlantic Kaiser Permanente Neuroscience Institute, explains how to handle the effects of the end of DST on the body and mind.
What happens to your body and mind when DST ends?
“We have an internal ‘master clock’ located deep in the brain in an area called the hypothalamus and our activities including, sleeping, eating and drinking are influenced by that internal clock. The end of DST leads to a day with an hour extra of sleep, and while this abrupt change has not been linked to catastrophic events like increased heart attacks and car accidents as in springtime when DST begins, chronic deprivation of light for prolonged periods of time can have adverse consequences like increased depression and anxiety during the winter months.”
How can people best cope with the days getting darker earlier, especially this year when depression rates are higher?
“External cues called zeitgebers help regulate our biological clocks, and sunlight is the strongest zeitgeber. Since the biological clock is slightly longer than24 hours, our bodies rely on sunlight to reset our circadian rhythm every day. Sudden changes in the timing of sunlight, as occurs when either DST starts or ends, can confuse our internal clocks, making it difficult to wake up or go to sleep at our desired time. It is important to maintain regular wake time and expose yourself to bright light when you wake up–a light box can help with this. Getting exercise during the day and spending time outdoors during daylight can help, too.”
How should those with babies, toddlers and small children handle the end of DST?
“It’s best to slowly adjust the schedule of babies and small children which helps them and their parents arrange feeding and nap schedules. During the week of the DST transition, an easy change of 10 to 15 minutes per day can help kids and parents to adjust to the new day and new schedule. Light and exercise are important in helping regulate sleep in children too. Keeping a set routine, including set timing of meals and naps, will help regulate circadian clocks and ease bedtime and nap time.”
What are some ways to combat seasonal depression?
“It is always important to talk to your doctor about any symptoms of depression. Get as much exposure to sunlight as possible during the daylight hours; a light box can be helpful, but be careful not to use it too close to bedtime or it may make it hard to fall asleep. Exercising in the morning or during the day not too close to bedtime is also key, as it releases ‘feel good’ hormones called endorphins into our bloodstream.”
How about other mood-boosting treatments?
“Phototherapy upon first waking up simulates natural sunlight and appears to positively affect mood and changes in the chemistry of the brain; light therapy at 10,000 Lux has known effects on the circadian clock. Yoga and meditation may have beneficial effects on sleep. Medications as well as psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and non-invasive brain modulation have also been shown to be effective in treating some seasonal depression.”