As the days get shorter and colder during winter months, some people start to feel a deep sense of gloom that they can’t quite shake. This could be a sign of something more than just feeling “off-tune” due to the changing seasons – it could be a sign of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a form of depression that typically occurs in the fall and winter months.
While it’s not entirely clear what causes this form of depression, many experts believe there is a link between SAD and daylight savings time. Let’s explore this connection further.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression caused by changes in seasons. It’s estimated that up to 10 million people in the United States experience SAD every year – with women being up to four times more likely to develop this seemingly mysterious disorder than their male counterparts.
Individuals with seasonal affective disorder often feel depressed, have difficulty sleeping, have low energy levels, and have difficulty concentrating. While its exact cause is not well known, some experts believe that disruptions to our circadian rhythms caused by changing daylight hours are responsible for triggering SAD symptoms.
What is Daylight Savings Time?
Daylight saving time (DST) is the practice of setting the clock ahead by one hour during the warm months to make better use of natural daylight and “falling back” an hour during the cold season.
This practice was originally implemented in the United States as a way to save energy by making use of extended daylight hours but has since been adopted in many countries around the world.
Typically, daylight saving time begins in March and ends in November (in the U.S.), with clocks being set back an hour in the fall and forward an hour in the spring. The jury is still out on the benefits of DST, with an increasing body of research suggesting it could lead to some health complications – one of which is seasonal affective disorder.
The Link Between SAD and Daylight Savings Time
The connection between SAD and DST is not fully understood, but experts believe it has something to do with the disruption in our circadian rhythms caused by changing daylight hours. As mentioned earlier, SAD typically occurs during the fall and winter months when days are shorter and there is less sunlight.
This is when Daylight Savings Time ends – and clocks “fall back” by one hour – resulting in even shorter days and less daylight. Experts believe this abrupt change in daylight hours can trigger SAD symptoms in some people in several ways:
Disruption of the Circadian Rhythm
Research shows that reduced daylight hours or reduced exposure to natural sunlight can disrupt the circadian rhythm or the body’s biological clock by interfering with the production of melatonin – a hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles – directly impacting mood and energy levels.
Reduced Vitamin D Levels
Another potential link between SAD and daylight saving time is the decrease in vitamin D production due to reduced natural sunlight exposure. Natural sunlight helps our bodies produce vitamin D, which plays a critical role in mood regulation. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to an increased risk for depression, so it’s possible that decreased sunlight exposure could lead to SAD symptoms.
Reduced Serotonin Production
Finally, experts believe that reduced exposure to natural sunlight could also interfere with the production of serotonin – a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. A decrease in serotonin levels in the brain has been implicated in the development of depression and other mental health conditions.
The Bottom Line
While the connection between daylight saving time and seasonal affective disorder is not fully understood, experts believe that disruptions to our circadian rhythm caused by changing daylight hours and reduced exposure to natural sunlight are the main culprits in the development of SAD symptoms.
If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, speak to your doctor or a mental health professional as soon as possible. They can conduct a conclusive diagnosis and provide appropriate treatment to manage symptoms and prevent your condition from progressing into full-blown clinical depression.