Here's How Daylight Saving Time Affects Your Mood When Darkness Tries To Steal Your Light

On Nov. 4, 2018, just before the clocks strikes 2:00 a.m., time will revert back an hour, and Daylight Saving Time will officially be over and done with for the year. Personally, I’m all for tacking on an extra 60 minutes of shut-eye and gaining back that extra hour of sleep we all lost at the beginning of March, but it’s a give and take. Unfortunately, in order to clinch that extra hour, you’re likely going to wake up in pitch black darkness, and that’s how Daylight Saving Time can affect your mood. Sure, sleep is lovely, but darkness is dreary, and the more your body is exposed to shadows, the less inviting the world can seem from the comfort of your warm bed.

And it’s not just the fact that these fall and winter mornings are much darker than you’re used to, and therefore harder to wake up to. It also doesn’t help that you leave for work or school in the darkness, and are traveling home as the sun is setting, too. Cue you sitting in your office cubicle, craning your neck to look out through a distant window as a single beam of sunshine trickles through chunky blinds. Only five months until spring, right?

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But that’s no way to live, friends. Whether you’re waking up to blue skies and sunshine or the moon and stars, life is far too short to let Daylight Saving Time sour your entire demeanor. Obviously this is much easier said than done, and I’ll most likely eat my own words come the actual clock change, so in order to channel the motivation you and I both need to push through these next few months with a smile, I reached out to pharmacist and wellness expert, Dr. Lindsey Elmore, to pinpoint what it is about Daylight Saving Time that can affect your mood so much.

For starters, Elmore says, chillin’ in the dark for long periods of time isn’t exactly uplifting, and the more time you spend in the dark, the higher the potential risk for feelings of depression, exhaustion, and lethargy. “Up to 10 percent of people experience seasonal affective disorder during short days, and symptoms resolve when the summer is longer,” Elmore tells Elite Daily. “This is because exposure to light increases positive brain chemicals, boosts vitamin D levels, and improves sleep.”

To clarify, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and a standard case of the winter blues are two very different things. As per the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), SAD is a very real, very serious medical condition in which a person experiences chronic depression at the same time each year, typically during the late fall and winter months. Common symptoms of SAD, according to the NIMH, include feeling depressed, hopeless, or worthless, having little to no energy, trouble sleeping, lack of concentration, and feeling generally agitated, among others. Those who experience mild to moderate variations of SAD symptoms are considered to have winter blues — which, Kelly Rohan, Ph.D., a SAD expert and associate professor of psychology at the University of Vermont, told the American Psychological Association, is relatively common due to the shift in sun exposure.

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It’s definitely possible that a change in your overall mood could be a sign of SAD (according to Mental Health America, five percent of the U.S. population struggles with SAD, and four out of every five people diagnosed with the seasonal disorder are women), and you should absolutely reach out to a loved one or doctor as soon as you start noticing a significant change in your demeanor. But it’s also normal to just feel kind of “meh” in the winter months, because unless your line of work is performed outside of an office building, it’s almost like you’re living in total darkness for five months straight.

According to a survey conducted by YouGov in partnership with skylight maker, VELUX, in which 2,239 participants revealed how daylight affects their sleep schedule and productivity, 78 percent agreed that daylight (or lack thereof) absolutely influences their mood. In the study’s press release, which was sent directly to Elite Daily via email, Dr. Steven Lockley, Ph.D., a leading neuroscientist and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, explained this is because there is a direct link between daylight and cognitive function. Lockley said,

Light is an acute stimulant which directly alerts the brain. If you’re exposed to brighter and bluer light in the daytime, then you get a better stimulant effect. You’ll be more alert and have better cognitive function; potentially be more productive at work and so on.

In other words, the more sunlight you're exposed to, the sharper and more alert your brain will be. During Daylight Saving Time's fall-back, however, your body (and therefore your brain) is exposed to less sunlight. Now, I don't know about you, but if my brain isn't functioning to the best of its ability, there's no way I'm going to feel my best.

Obviously you nor I can make the sun switch on like a lamp in a dark room, so how can you wake up on the right side of the bed, and feel your best from dawn to dusk if the majority of your day is spent in the shadows?

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Nature Made’s healthy business advisor and nourishment expert, Amina AlTai, tells Elite Daily that, more often than not, due to the shift in light, a lot of people struggle to stick with the rituals and routines they established during the spring and summer months. Seeing as how sleep, like Daylight Saving Time, can affect your mood in so many ways, it’s important to be on top of your sleep schedule during this transition.

For example, if you’re a morning person, AlTai suggests getting ready for bed a bit earlier than usual by turning off your phone and computer, and doing some relaxing activities like deep breathing and meditation. As for natural-born night owls, AlTai says testing out earlier bedtimes could be beneficial, but that you also might want to consider taking energy-boosting supplements, such as the Nature Made Daily Energy gummy that contains B vitamins, electrolytes, as well as 10 other key nutrients to keep you alert.

Honestly, the best thing you can do for your mental health during this time is to be mindful throughout the day. Check in with yourself regularly, and if you notice you're kind of going through a funk, treat yourself to a little R&R. Draw a warm bath, put on your comfy clothes, drink a lot of hot cocoa, and allow yourself to feel whatever it is you're feeling. But don't fret, friends. In the words of my girl Ariana Grande, "the light is coming to give back everything the darkness stole."