• Hannah Tadey

A Case of the Winter Blues: Study Shows Daylight Savings Could Increase Depression

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Though setting the clock an hour back and getting an extra hour of sleep may put a smile on your face initially, a new study has shown that the added hour of darkness in the evening proves harder to handle.

The study comes out of Denmark where researchers analyzed the number of depression cases in psychiatric hospitals immediately after the daylight savings time transition. From 1995 to 2012, there was an 11% increases in depression diagnoses during the studied period. The cases dissipated gradually after 10 weeks. This is 8% higher than the expected “seasonal depression” numbers.

Researchers from the universities of Aarhus, Copenhagen and Stanford were all aware of an overall negative effect associated with daylight savings time, including an increase in heart attacks and stroke risk. Time change has also been known to disrupt circadian rhythm – the physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow one’s daily cycle.

“The results should give rise to increased awareness of depression in the weeks following the transition to standard time,” said Dr. Soren D. Ostergaard, one of the five study authors and an associate professor at Aarhus University. “This is especially true for people that are prone to develop depression, as well of their relatives, who may be the first ones to notice the depressive symptoms.”

The correlation between daylight savings time and seasonal depression has been one talked about for years, but has only been studied as of late. Luckily for sufferers of seasonal depression, there is no longer a lack of research.

“In general, in terms of normal sleep patterns, daylight in the morning is better than light later in the day. Remember, our circadian rhythms were set eons ago to a rhythm that didn’t include daylight savings time, so the shift tends to throw people off a bit,” said Dr. Nicholas Rummo, Director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, New York. “Daylight savings time is anti-physiologic, and it’s a little deleterious, at least for several days.”

No matter the type or severity of depression, there is help – much of which is self-help. Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a world-renowned psychiatrist, has listed tips that have helped many of his own patients overcome depression’s debilitating effects. First and foremost, Rosenthal explains that the most important thing to do is to recognize and understand that depression, whether it’s mild or severe, seasonal or chronic, is a legitimate problem and that you do not need to suffer through it alone. He gives these tips for helping fight the winter blues:

  • “Bring more light into your home. Invest in a light box or place more lamps throughout the house. Make sure to turn them on when you get home.

  • “Walk first thing in the morning to take advantage of morning light. It’s good to combine exercise and light. If it’s raining or dark when you want to exercise, place a light box in front of your exercise machine or workout space.

  • “Plan a winter vacation somewhere nice and sunny.

  • “Diminish personal stress as much as you can. Don’t take a deadline just after your worst time of the year for seasonal depression. Work on it when your mind is working well.

  • “Put a timer on your bedside lamp to turn on half an hour before you wake up. Waking up to bright light is better than waking up to dark surroundings.

  • “Don’t rely on carbohydrates for an extra energy boost. The advantage is short-lived.

  • “Keep your social life going. Don’t oversleep or stay in bed. Depriving yourself of morning light won’t help.”

(Tips courtesy of CNN)

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