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Navigating Darker Days: Taking Care of Your Mental Health With Less Daylight

Navigating Darker Days: Taking Care of Your Mental Health With Less Daylight

Oct 25, 2022

As we set our clocks back an hour in observance of the end of daylight saving time, our days will start getting shorter, leading to more time spent indoors. Research suggests that the end of daylight saving time can exacerbate mental health conditions, so taking care of yourself throughout these months is essential. 

How the end of daylight saving time can affect your mental health

Transitioning into and out of daylight saving time is associated with significant health and safety risks, including mood disturbances, sleep disruption and mental health issues. Although the exact reason this happens is unknown, it’s thought to be related to your circadian rhythm. 

“Circadian rhythms are sets of changes in the body that occur naturally over 24 hours,” said Darren McMahon, LSCW, LCADC, Outpatient Wellness Manager at Inspira Health Center Woodbury and Glassboro. “They cause periods of wakefulness and sleepiness throughout the day and night.” When we set our clocks back an hour at the end of daylight saving time, our circadian rhythm can fall out of sync with the sunlight’s natural light-dark cycle. 

When your internal clock gets thrown off track, it can result in memory issues, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, daytime sleepiness and lower performance in physical activities. 

As we spend less time outdoors, the lack of natural sunlight can affect the mood-regulating centers in our brains. Spending most of our time indoors can also lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, which may increase the risk of mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Less sunlight can also lead to seasonal affective disorder, a common mood disorder characterized by depression.
What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is a change in mood that corresponds to seasonal changes. “SAD symptoms typically start in the fall and continue throughout winter months, draining your energy and affecting your overall mood,” said McMahon. “These symptoms usually resolve as winter ends and spring begins.” 

Symptoms of SAD include: 

  • Feeling depressed for the majority of the day 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • A lack of interest in activities you typically enjoy 
  • Decreased energy and oversleeping 
  • Overeating and weight gain 
  • Feelings of extreme hopelessness and worthlessness 
  • Suicidal ideation 

Treatment for SAD may involve phototherapy, which is exposure to bright light within the first hour of waking up in the morning that can positively impact your mood. Other treatment options include psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. 

How to boost your mood

Fortunately, we can minimize the impact of reduced sun exposure through healthy coping activities. To make up for the loss of light in the evenings, try heading outside for a walk first thing in the morning. Light exposure, especially during the morning hours, can help alleviate the symptoms of SAD and improve your overall mood. 

Increasing your physical activity can positively impact your mood and energy levels. Aim for 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week, which equates to 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. 

It’s perfectly normal to feel down some days. But if you’re feeling sad for days at a time, notice a change in your sleep or eating patterns or can’t find the motivation for the things you enjoy, support is available. At Inspira Health, our experienced team of behavioral health professionals is here to offer compassionate care and develop personalized plans to support your unique needs. 

Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff. To make an appointment, call 1-800-INSPIRA.


Topics: Behavioral Health, Health and Wellness