The Power of an Hour: The Effects of Daylight Savings Time

It’s that time of the year again, daylight savings time. If you’re still irked about losing that hour of sleep last March, when most of the country went on Daylight savings time, here’s some good news… This month you get it back! Daylight savings time will officially end at 2 a.m. Sunday, November 4th, so if you haven’t heard already, you need to set your clocks back (“fall back”) one sanah-suvarna-161883-unsplashhour.

So although an extra hour might sound great, beware that you may find yourself feeling “off” in the next several days. Recent research has shown that in the days and weeks that follow the twice-yearly “springing forward” or “falling back” of the clocks, many complain of body clock confusion, missing appointments, oversleeping and even physical aches and pains. The fact is, even changing the time by an hour can have lasting effects on our health, which includes our mental health.

A lot of it has to do with how much sunlight we’re getting (or aren’t getting, as the case may be), but there’s also a little more to it than that. Here are four things you might experience after turning the clocks back:

  • You May Be More Likely To Suffer From SAD- Given that it’s officially autumn now, it’s important to point out that for people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the shift in time resulting from daylight savings time is no small matter. “Falling back” in time coincides with the shorter days we experience in the fall and winter, meaning that we have less time exposed to the natural light. Sleep expert Teofilo L. Lee-Chiong, MD explains at Greatist that it’s helpful for people who suffer from SAD to preemptively counteract the effects of lost sunlight with artificial light therapy. While SAD is pretty serious to deal with it, daylight savings time at least always comes on a predictable cycle, so you can work to nip possible effects in the bud ahead of time.
  • You Might Feel More Irritable– Given that our sleep schedules shift with daylight savings time, it’s pretty normal to experience more irritability until your body adjusts. For example, as Dr. Charles Czeisler, chief of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explained to CBS News, “We know from small studies that in people who are sleep deprived, the amygdala, which is the emotional center of the brain, is much more reactive to disturbing images as compared to somebody who’s well rested.” Basically, this means that if you find yourself feeling short-tempered with your coworkers or family, daylight savings time may be a possible cause; it usually makes your sleep schedule go out of whack for a short while. Give yourself a little time to cool down and put it into perspective.
  • You Might Lose Motivation At Work– Ever go into work and find yourself spending extra time on Facebook and YouTube when still adjusting to daylight savings time? You’re definitely not alone if so. According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, many employees who had shifts affected by daylight savings time had an increase in “cyberfloating” — aka, wasting time on the Internet instead of working. Luckily, this loss of work-related motivation should even out when you adjust to your new schedule.
  • You May Feel More Anxious– Research from Tel Aviv University suggest that when your sleep schedule is disrupted, you may feel more anxious and more likely to have emotional outbursts. This makes a lot of sense no matter the season, because either way, your sleep schedule is still being affected.

But have no fear… these symptoms will disappear! Although experiencing decreased motivation or increased irritability and anxiety is never fun, it can be a comfort to know that your body will adjust.  It might take a few days to feel 100% normal, but fear not; your body will adjust to the new light-dark cycle. However, if you suffer from SAD, you may find that you’re symptoms may not improve in the days and weeks following this time change. Seasonal affective disorder can be a serious condition, which affects millions of Americans each year. If you feel that your symptoms are worsening or are impacting your daily functioning, don’t hesitate to call your primary care physician or seek professional mental health treatment.

-Amanda Keller, LCSW