girl in bed looking at an alarm clock

Losing Light, Losing Mind: Time to Retire Daylight Saving?

It’s that time of year again – the clocks have fallen back, darkness descends by 5 pm, and many of us are left feeling moody, unmotivated, and just a little bit glum. 

You’re not alone! The return of Standard Time can deliver an emotional wallop, even for those not prone to seasonal sadness. It upends circadian rhythms we’ve established over months of later dusks and disrupts the critical body chemicals that maintain our mood and energy. 

Though it might seem like an arbitrary change of 60 minutes, studies show turning back the clocks in winter is linked to actual decreases in happiness and well-being.

So, how did we end up with this seasonal assault on mental health and pep? The idea of daylight saving time (DST) arose over a century ago when an entomologist wanted more afternoon daylight for collecting bugs. In some form or another, most American states persevered with clock shifting to extend sunny evenings deeper into spring and summer. 

But the psychological toll of darker winter mornings continues, even as the energy-saving arguments for switching time zones have fallen away. Emerging research confirms this public health burden – and suggests it’s time to ditch the bi-annual change.

Let’s explore the surprising mental health impacts of daylight saving time in winter and why reform is overdue. We also provide pro tips and lifestyle tweaks to help safeguard your state of mind. Stick with us to learn how to keep your glow through the gloom!

When Losing An Hour Feels Like Losing Your Mind

Shifting the clocks back an hour in November delivers a special kind of one-two punch when it comes to mental health. Not only do we lose one precious hour of evening daylight, but disrupting our natural circadian rhythms can also hamper mood and cognitive function. 

When these body clock disruptions occur regularly, as they do twice per year with daylight saving time, effects may linger longer than the few groggy days adjusting to the initial time change.

Specifically, the move to standard time each winter causes most people’s biological wake times to shift one hour later, out of sync with fixed school/work schedules. 

Experts say this one-hour misalignment between what our bodies expect and what our morning alarms demand leads to disrupted sleep-wake cycles through late fall and winter. Lost sleep and fighting against your natural circadian clock leave you more vulnerable to feeling disoriented, sluggish, and moody.

Studies also link the November time change to decreased life satisfaction and poorer concentration. For those prone to seasonal depression or winter blues, dubbed seasonal affective disorder (SAD), darker mornings can further diminish mood and motivation. 

The plunge in natural sunlight exposure plus the metabolic effects of circadian cycle shifts appear to worsen low mood, fatigue, cravings, and low motivation for those with SAD.

Daylight Saving’s Dubious Origins and Purpose

So, what led to this seemingly antiquated practice, and why do we still fall back?

Modern daylight saving time traces its origins to prominent entomologist George Hudson who 1895, proposed changing the clocks to have more after-dinner sunshine for his insect collecting hobby. The idea of aligning clock time to maximize useful daylight caught on over the next few decades, often linked to energy conservation goals and wartime policies.

Germany and Austria were the first to officially adopt daylight saving time in 1916 to conserve coal during World War I by reducing evening lighting demands. 

The United States followed soon after, enacting daylight saving as a wartime fuel policy from 1918-1919 and again during World War II. Year-round daylight saving time was instituted again from 1974 to 1975 when the oil embargo triggered energy worries.

Though first intended to pare evening electricity usage, researchers have since debunked theories that daylight saving actually decreases energy demands. One meta-analysis covering decades of DST shifts found no statistically significant drop in overall electricity use resulting from the bi-annual change. Our internal circadian cycles still drive similar waking/sleeping times regardless of clock time.

Yet tradition continues to trump science, it seems. Today, approximately 70 countries utilize some version of daylight saving time, setting clocks forward in spring and rolling them back in fall to take advantage of longer summer daylight. 

Despite questionable energy-saving outcomes, sticking to daylight saving time remains the default for most governments worldwide.

Time for Change? Rethinking Daylight Saving in the Modern Era

While the original intentions behind daylight saving time may have been reasonable for the early 20th century, evidence builds that this antiquated practice now causes more harm than good in modern societies. 

Beyond questionable energy-saving outcomes, public health arguments reveal shifting the clocks two times per year serves to disrupt circadian rhythms and enable mood disorders for millions vulnerable to seasonal depression.

In recent years, objections have mounted from sleep scientists and mental health experts who argue the bi-annual time changes are an “unnecessary, health-damaging anachronism.” Lawmakers now face growing calls to review the practice through a modern lens. Initiatives gaining traction include:

Permanent Standard Time: Removing time shifts altogether by sticking to permanent standard time would allow better alignment of clock time with most people’s innate circadian cycles without fall/spring disruptions.

Delaying School Times: An alternative solution is keeping daylight saving or summer hours but adjusting school and work start times later to match time changes. Several states are now considering bills to institute later school times to benefit adolescent health.

More Research: Governments continue funding research studies on the health, safety, and economic impacts of switching between standard and daylight saving time. Findings inform modern debate on DST’s merits.

Coping with the “Time Change Blues”

As momentum gathers to eliminate bi-annual time changes, you may still need to cope with disrupted mood, energy, and sleep cycles over this darker fall and winter. When standard time starts wreaking havoc, proactively safeguard both physical and mental health using research-backed strategies:

Prioritize Sleep: Ensure sufficient sleep opportunity by adding extra cushion to bedtimes. Protect sleep quality by maximizing a dark/cool/quiet bedroom environment – so important for a good night’s rest!

Get That Needed Light Exposure: Spend more time outdoors during daylight to help reset circadian rhythms, especially in the mornings. Indoor light therapy lamps can also offset seasonal sunlight dips, helping to reduce fatigue and improve mood.

Stay Active: Move the body to lift mood and energy; regular exercise can help re-regulate sleep patterns throughout these longer days/shorter nights.

Nourish with Healthy Eating Habits: Consume nutrient dense meals to promote mental clarity – think salmon, leafy greens, avocado! Also, resist cravings for sugary/processed comfort foods that only provide a short-lived sugar rush.

Monitor Screen Time: As evening approaches earlier each night, be mindful of overusing screens, as this can disrupt the natural melatonin production needed for restorative sleep.

Preempt the Winter Blues: Boost mood-friendly lifestyle habits before seasonal sadness strikes by building physical activity, social connections, nutritious eating and stress resilience practices into fall and winter routines.

Know When to Seek Help: Consult your doctor or mental health professional if low mood, low energy, and sleep disruptions persist despite self-care efforts. Winter-pattern seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may require specific treatment.

Though challenging, reminding yourself the dark mornings and earlier sunsets are temporary can help fortify mental resilience. Within several winter weeks, most people adapt their circadian rhythms to align with standard time again. Practicing healthy lifestyle habits also assists the body in adjusting and upholding mental equilibrium until longer spring days return.

Is It Time to Move On from Daylight Saving?

As we’ve explored, daylight saving time remains a common practice worldwide despite questionable energy-saving outcomes today and growing recognition of its detrimental impacts on health and wellbeing. 

The bi-annual one-hour time shifts disrupt circadian rhythms for millions, enabling mood disorders in at-risk groups. Yet addressing what’s become a public health issue garners surprising controversy.

It’s time to consider how to improve our collective quality of life by rescinding the outdated practice. With alternative energy conservation methods, we can safely transition to a unified system for all time zones and leave behind the troubles from daylight saving. 

But in the meantime, you can still make sure you’re taking steps to care for yourself and your mental health. From increasing natural sunlight exposure to setting a regular sleep routine, these simple measures can go a long way toward countering the associated adverse effects of daylight saving time.

Find Help With AlignUs

At AlignUs, we are passionate about helping you find the resources and help you need to live a happier and healthier life. 

That’s why we are committed to staying on top of current trends and research that help inform our approach, such as the impacts of daylight saving time. We understand how important it is to stay up-to-date and act purposefully to ensure everyone is living their best life — no matter what time it is!

Together, let us continue to strive for a world where people live in harmony with themselves and their environment. We can move forward together toward a brighter future by equipping ourselves with knowledge. Let’s take this small but essential step towards making daylight saving time obsolete. It starts today!

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