8 Ways to Adjust to the End of Daylight Saving Time

5 min read

The notorious time change that marks the end of Daylight Saving Time is just around the corner. With the arrival of the fall season, my clients start preparing emotionally and physically for the colder, darker, shorter days to come. While gaining an extra hour of sleep sounds like a good thing, this seemingly innocuous shift can have surprisingly substantial psychological effects. I’ve worked extensively with clients on helping them understand how the time change can impact one’s mood.

Do these statements sound familiar?

  • “I don’t feel like going to the gym after work because it’s already dark when I leave.”
  • “It’s too cold to go anywhere.”
  • “My motivation is low during the winter, I just want to hibernate.”

Our internal body clocks, known as circadian rhythms, are highly sensitive to changes in light and darkness. Circadian rhythms influence every part of our bodies from our sleep-wake cycle, hormone production, to our appetite. Additionally, mood disorders such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), major depressive disorder (MDD), and bipolar disorder (BD) are strongly associated with abnormal sleep and changes in circadian rhythms. When we set back the clock during the fall, effectively “gaining” an hour, our circadian rhythms can be thrown off balance, leading to a host of psychological challenges.

  1. Disrupted Sleep Patterns. The time change can disrupt our sleep patterns, as our bodies struggle to adjust to the new schedule. It’s like emotional jet lag. Scientific studies have shown that even small shifts in sleep timing can lead to sleep deprivation, fatigue, and irritability. This disruption can have a cascading effect on mental health, focus, and overall productivity.
  2. Mood and Mental Health Impact. The change in daylight hours can also impact our mood and mental health. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that follows a seasonal pattern, is more commonly experienced during the fall and winter months. The time change can exacerbate symptoms of SAD, such as low mood, lack of energy, changes in sleep/appetite, and decreased motivation. If you experience SAD, you often notice a pattern of when it begins and ends each year. Research suggests that there is an 11 percent increase in depressive episodes during the switch from daylight saving to standard time.
  3. Productivity and Motivation Challenges. Our brains are wired to function optimally within a set routine and love consistency. The time change significantly disrupts this routine, leading to difficulties in concentration, focus, memory recall, and overall productivity.

Coping Strategies for a Smooth Transition

It’s tempting to pull the covers over your head, but it is time to find new ways to cope and take care of your mental health. Here are some tips to help you thrive during the time change.

  1. Give Yourself Time to Adjust. It can take several days or even weeks for our brains to fully adjust to the new schedule. Thus, it can be wise to avoid planning anything major or make big decisions or important meetings right after the time change.
  2. Vitamin D-rich Foods. It’s important during the winter to improve your vitamin D level. Low vitamin D is associated with having the winter blues. Since we are unable to get outside to get sunlight in the winter, you can improve your Vitamin D level through supplements or Vitamin D-rich foods such as salmon, mushrooms, eggs, fortified cereals, and milk.
  3. Embrace Natural Light. Maximize your exposure to natural light, especially in the morning. Open your curtains wide, go for a walk or sit outside, or enjoy your morning coffee on the porch. Natural light is a free, easy, and effective way to recalibrate your internal clock and promote the production of mood-boosting neurotransmitters.
  4. Light Lamps. If you can’t get outside, light therapy lamps are the best investigated and most successful intervention. Put it on for 20 minutes in the morning. This can help significantly to brighten you mood.
  5. Gradual Adjustment. Rather than waiting until the last minute, gradually adjust your sleep schedule in the days leading up to the time change. Start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night, allowing your body to acclimate gradually. This approach helps minimize the shock to your system.
  6. Mindful Evening Routine. Create a soothing evening routine to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for restful sleep. Engage in activities such as reading, listening to music, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing or mindful meditation. This conscious transition can promote a better, more restful sleep experience.
  7. Dawn Stimulators. These innovative bulbs can gradually increase the intensity of light in your bedroom, simulating a sunrise and gently nudging your body into wakefulness. This can be particularly helpful for those struggling with early morning wake-ups.
  8. Mindful Movement. Movement is a natural antidepressant. This can include cleaning, walking, dancing, or any kind of movement. It’s tempting to stay in bed when it is cold and dark. However, movement can help to keep you feeling motivated and brighten your mood.

Due to the psychological difficulty of adjusting to the time change, there have been many attempts in Congress to put an end to Daylight Saving Time. However, those efforts have not been successful. Therefore, as we prepare to fall back and embrace the changing seasons, it’s essential to understand the psychological and physical impact of the time change and arm ourselves with effective coping strategies.

The good news: The time change is but a temporary disruption, and with a little mindfulness and self-care, we can continue to thrive throughout the fall season and beyond.

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