Turn back the clock, sink into depression?

November 2, 2016 Providence Health Team

It’s not true of everyone, but a significant percentage of people are diagnosed with depression soon after a country resets from daylight time to standard time.

A Danish study of more than 185,000 cases of depression diagnoses found the number about 8 percent higher immediately after the time change than would otherwise be expected.

"We are relatively certain that it is the transition from daylight saving time to standard time that causes the increase in the number of depression diagnoses and not, for example, the change in the length of the day or bad weather,” said Søren D. Østergaard, one of the authors of the study and an associate professor at Aarhus University. “In fact, we take these phenomena into account in our analyses."

Disruptions at the start of the day

The study doesn’t pinpoint exactly what it is about the time change that triggers depression for some people. But the change forces people to alter their sleep routines and doesn’t pay off at the front end of the day, when people are eating breakfast or commuting to work or school, Østergaard said.

The time change also signals a variety of other changes, he said. “The transition to standard time is likely to be associated with a negative psychological effect as it very clearly marks the coming of a period of long, dark and cold days," he said.

Tips for adjusting to daylight savings time

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers advice and tips for those transitioning to standard time:

  • Remember it can take a week for the body to adjust to a new sleep time, so consider lightening your physical and mental demands for the week after the change.
  • Remember that drivers are likely sleepier, so drive especially carefully.
  • You can ease the transition by beginning several days before the time change, moving bedtime, wake-up time, meals and exercise by 15 or 20 minutes a day.
  • For about the first hour after awakening, keep the lights dim and avoid electronic screens on computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices.
  • Be especially conscious of how much sleep you’re getting, remembering that sleep deprivation can lead to safety and health risks.

Recognizing the signs of depression

Symptoms of depression, according to the CDC, include:

  • Feeling sad or anxious often or all the time
  • Not wanting to do activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling irritable‚ easily frustrated or restless
  • Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Waking up too early or sleeping too much
  • Eating more or less than usual, or not wanting to eat
  • Experiencing aches, pains, headaches or stomach problems
  • Having trouble concentrating or remembering details
  • Feeling tired‚ even after sleeping well
  • Feeling guilty, worthless or helpless
  • Thinking about suicide or hurting yourself

More resources

If you’re feeling melancholy, talk to your health care provider about your feelings and your daily routine, including your sleep patterns. You can find a Providence provider here.

An abstract of the study, “Daylight savings time transitions and the incidence rate of unipolar depressive episodes,” was published online by the journal Epidemiology. Aarhus University published an article about the study that you can read at Science Daily.

The CDC steers people to an online, occupational safety training course for nurses on shift work and long hours. It says the guidelines can apply to anyone adjusting to a new schedule. It includes a sleepiness self test and tips for regulating your sleep.

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