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Turn Back the Clock this Weekend, but Watch Out for Signs of Depression

By Bob Carolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations

Spring forward and fall back.  That’s the rule for changing our clocks.
So don’t forget to turn your clock back an hour before you go the bed this Saturday night.

Daylight saving time (DST), which began in the spring, comes to an end the first Sunday in November (this year, Nov. 3) at 2 a.m. when the United States shift back to standard time. (The exception is Arizona, which doesn’t observe daylight saving time). Daylight saving time reduces crime, promotes outdoor recreation and is good for many businesses, although there are always competing studies on these points. 

An added benefit is that the number of heart attacks in the population drops on the Monday after the time change.

On the other hand, if daylight saving time were to remain in place, school children would walk to school or wait for buses, especially along rural roads, in the dark. Also, falling back results for a temporary increase in the number of pedestrian deaths in the evening during the first few weeks after the shift. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that 65 pedestrians were killed by car crashes in the week before daylight saving time ended, and 227 pedestrians were killed in the week following the end of DST.

In addition, turning a clock forward or back even by one hour affects a person’s circadian rhythm or “biological clock” affecting everything from sleep patterns to hormone levels.

For some people living with depression or other mood disorders, the approach of the changeover is a time of dread—symbolically marking the start of the dark season when seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may kick-in.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression, usually in late fall and winter, alternating with periods of normal or high mood the rest of the year. While no specific gene has been shown to cause SAD, many people with this illness report at least one close relative with a psychiatric condition—most frequently a severe depressive disorder or substance abuse.

Although some individuals do not necessarily show these symptoms, the classic characteristics of recurrent winter depression include oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving and weight gain. Additionally, many people may experience other features of depression including decreased sexual interest, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in normal activities and decreased socialization.

SAD requires a broader, long-term plan of action and may involve light therapy using “a light box” for a period each day. As always, consult your doctor both about symptoms and treatment options.

Despite the possibility of SAD, the additional hour of daylight in the morning is generally beneficial to persons living with depression.  Light helps in fighting depression. With the change back to standard time, it’s the immediate adjustment that hurts, followed by shorter days overall in the coming weeks and months.

In order to make the adjustment smoother, Lloyd Resnick, the former editor of the Harvard Heart Letter offers these recommendations:

  • Go to bed on Saturday and get up on Sunday at the usual times.
  • Make sure to draw bedroom blinds—sunrise will occur an hour early.
  • As soon as you wake up, expose yourself to daylight.
  • Maintain the rest of your normal Sunday schedule, including mealtimes.

So enjoy the extra hour of sleep this Sunday (and try not to show up to anything too early).