Daylight Savings Time and Mental Health

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Have you been feeling “off” all week? Have you felt foggy, fatigued, anxious and depressed? You’re not alone―and last Sunday’s “spring forward” could very well have something to do with it. Unsurprisingly, the time change can have a real affect on our mental health.

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, even physical aches and pains. The fact is, even changing the time by an hour can have lasting effects on our health. And this includes mental health.

Finnish researchers have found that the transition to daylight savings time reduces both our sleep duration and efficiency. The researchers monitored the rest-activity cycles of ten people for ten days a year over a two year period to study the effects of the transition. They realized that sleep time was shortened up to 60 minutes and sleep efficiency was reduced by an average of 10 percent.

This may explain why there are always more accidents, heart attacks and other reported health problems in the week that follows a time change. Becoming sleep deprived overnight is one thing, but if you add in another week of reduced sleep rate and efficiency, you’re going to have problems. And for someone with a sleep disorder, bipolar disorder or depression, the adjustment may be even harder.

Even mentally healthy adults are more likely to be less productive at work after the time change. Sleep deprivation, even for a short time, has a lasting impact on our ability to work efficiently. If you’re self-employed or have a flexible schedule, planning a lightened week is the best way to avoid making mistakes.

The good news? The changes we experience aren’t entirely bad. Once people adjust to the change, depression rates tend to fall. Quebec researchers say sleeping too much actually increases REM sleep, and excessive REM sleep is linked to depression. The researchers reviewed two studies on depression in relation to sunrise times in several cities. They found it was significantly tied to depression rates. Later sunrise and sunset was associated with less depression.

Also, people tend to be more active in the evenings during spring and summer. Feeling that the best part of the day isn’t over when we leave work or school makes us feel more optimistic, and outdoor exercise will be more likely. Physical fitness is tied to mental health, so this could have real benefits. Also, we’re more likely to socialize more often when it’s light outside. Spring brings opportunities for outdoor activities, baseball games, visits to amusement parks and meals enjoyed on patios.

One other benefit that we don’t often consider is that crime rates may drop now. People spend less time in the dark (which is when they’re more likely to be robbed or attacked), and since people leave work and school in daylight, road traffic injuries could decrease as well. Unfortunately fatal traffic accidents do increase in number in the week following the spring shift to daylight savings, but luckily they tend to taper off when people catch up on their rest.

Knowing that their is light at the end of the foggy tunnel does help, but it doesn’t really make up for the fact that almost everyone will have a miserable week following the time change. For future reference, here are some tips for preparing for the shift to daylight savings:

  • If you already have sleep issues, know that a time change in either direction can aggravate your sleep disorder. Stick to a strict routine of going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. The night before the time change, try to go to bed an hour early if you can.
  • Resist the urge to stay out late the night before and sleep in the next day (because after all, it’s Saturday night, right?). Consistency is key, especially this time of year.
  • Prepare for the extra daylight—it may make it tough for you to stay asleep. Invest in a set of room-darkening shades, but open them as soon as you’re awake. You want the natural light to reset your biological clock, but you also don’t want it to wake you up at 6 AM.
  • Avoid alcohol and excessive caffeine the day before the time change. Both can mess with your natural sleep patterns, and you don’t want to add more confusion to the mix.

If you have any questions, or need additional help, feel free to call Dr. Tucker, a Newport Beach psychiatrist, at