Daylight Saving Time brings us longer days filled with natural light, but this “spring forward” can have varying effects on mood and wellness. Studies show that more than four in ten Americans have had their daily activities significantly impacted by poor or insufficient sleep. These numbers may increase in March when many people must adjust to losing an hour of their day.
Daylight Saving Time (DST) is the annual practice of setting clocks forward one hour from March to November. This happens on the second Sunday each March. Standard Time (ST), then, is the non-DST period from November to March. Clocks are set back one hour in this period, starting on the first Sunday of November. This is why the phrase “spring forward, fall back” was coined.
During DST, we gain an additional hour of natural daylight in the afternoon. Since people are typically more active in the evening of a workday than they are in the morning, this means that they can use less artificial light. Other arguments suggest that DST can conserve energy used to illuminate buildings and to improve evening road safety.
However, it’s hard to say if the pros of DST outweigh the cons. Some argue that the amount of energy conserved with DST is negligible due to the use of other electronics. DST is also linked to increased sleep deficiency, which may lead to increased trends of car accidents, social problems, and decreased productivity.
DST is an artificial change that may disrupt normal sleep patterns. Many people report greater sleep loss during the weeks following DST. Most people require 7-8 hours of sleep per night to maintain short and long-term health, so sleep loss due to DST may have consequences on your overall wellness. The shifts from ST to DST and from DST to ST can also throw off your body’s internal clock, otherwise known as your circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythm is responsible for determining your sleep-wake cycle. It’s controlled by clock genes and determines daily fluctuations in wakefulness, body metabolism and body healing. Human bodies are supposed to suppress melatonin production during light exposure, then produce it in the evening when it is very dark to help us transition to sleep. Natural light exposure is associated with increased production of serotonin, which increases feelings of wakefulness.
When DST changes light exposure and sleep schedules, it may disrupt the circadian rhythm and therefore sleep quality. Those who work night shifts or already experience sleep deprivation may experience more significant sleepiness.
There are pros and cons as to how DST affects mood and wellness. While DST can negatively impact the circadian rhythm, it may also provide other wellness benefits.
Natural light regulates the mood-enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin. Because DST creates longer days of more daylight, most people can take advantage of increased natural light exposure.
Increased wakefulness during later hours of the day may enable more people to be more active. You may be more likely to go outside or exercise, which is associated with increased endorphin production and consequently more positive feelings.
During ST and shorter winter days, many people experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that is usually associated with decreased amounts of natural light. In addition to impaired cognitive function, people with SAD may also experience low moods and lethargy. Because DST increases natural light exposure, it can help to alleviate the symptoms of SAD.
In summary, increased natural light promotes well-being, more energy and better mood.
Sleep deprivation or deficiency is associated with increased feelings of stress, anger, sadness and mental exhaustion. An irregular circadian rhythm due to DST and ST shifts may have a negative effect on your ability to sleep. This can result in mood disorders, including depression, anxiety and SAD. People who already suffer from sleep or mood problems will find the DST/ST shift a struggle. Anxiety and other forms of emotional distress can worsen sleep difficulties, which creates a cycle of sleep deficiency.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.