Have you noticed that with the time change it gets darker sooner? I mean, by 5 pm it’s dark outside and maybe it’s just me but every year it seems to get earlier. And what’s with the loss of one hour of light? I researched the history behind daylight savings time because it clearly seems like a waste of an hour -I hardly notice the extra hour.
Daylight savings time was originally introduced in 1918 by President Woodrow Wilson to support the war effort during World War 1. Now, daylight savings time is used to conserve energy and make better use of daylight.
Just a bit of trivia and history for you.
For many people during this time of the year, the first hints of cold weather and less sunshine are met with feelings of sadness, low motivation and isolation. The clinical term is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and reportedly between 1 and 10 percent suffer from SAD in the U.S. and its prevalence is dependent upon geographical location. Another 10 to 20 percent may have a mild form of SAD, and the rest of us just hate the cold and snow and hibernate during the winter months. SAD is 4x more common in women than in men and can develop at any age.
The symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression, appear during late fall or early winter and typically remit during the warmer and lighter days of spring and summer. Interestingly, symptoms can all occur in the reverse. There are some people who suffer from this condition in the summer instead of, or in addition to, the fall or winter.
Clients are showing up in my practice reporting feeling low and ‘blah’ this time of the year. Symptoms of SAD include: depression, tiredness, fatigue, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, crying spells, irritability, weight gain, isolation, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, loss of sex drive, poor sleep and overeating.
What causes SAD?
The two theories purported to be the cause of SAD are the shift of our “internal body clocks” or the circadian rhythm and the production of melatonin in our bodies. As seasons change there is a shift in our biological internal clocks that may not be in sync with our daily schedules. Second, melatonin, a sleep related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain is produced at increased rates in the dark.
The primary treatment for persons who suffer from SAD is photo light therapy, or the light box. The light box artificially simulates high-intensity sunlight. The person actually sits directly under the light for a minimum of 30 minutes a day right after early morning wakening. The light box is costly yet has produced positive results for persons experiencing SAD.
Medication used to treat depression may also be a choice for some who do not receive benefit from light therapy.
For milder forms of SAD, people are encouraged to seek out natural light outdoors and to increase the amount of lighting in their home and office. One study found that an hour’s walk in winter sunlight was effective as 2 ½ hours under bright artificial light. Likely the combination of movement and being in the sunlight helps to reset the brain and increases serotonin levels thereby decreasing the “moody blues.”
In my practice I encourage people to get moving (increase physical activity), avoid long naps during the day, monitor their food choices and intake, and stay connected with others socially as effective ways to manage SAD.