The Daylight Saving Time Change May Be Bad for Our Mental Health

Photo by Camila Damásio

Photo by Camila Damásio

If you live in one of the countries where Daylight Saving Time (DST) is coming to an end, enjoy that extra hour of sleep this weekend. It may be the only clear-cut benefit to the time change. Springing forward at the start of DST can be bad — it’s associated with heart problems, car accidents, and a general crash in productivity, but fall has it own drawbacks. You might experience insomnia or sleeplessness as your body tries to adjust to its new schedule, your kids may be harder to handle for the same reason, and researchers have recently found that you might be at greater risk of depression.

A study held by the universities of Aarhus, Copenhagen and Stanford looked at depression diagnoses at psychiatric hospitals in Denmark between 1995 and 2012. What they found was an 8 percent higher-than-expected jump in people being diagnosed with depression in the weeks immediately following the transition from daylight saving time to standard time.

“We are relatively certain that it is the transition from daylight saving time to standard time that causes the increase in the number of depression diagnoses and not, for example, the change in the length of the day or bad weather. In fact, we take these phenomena into account in our analyses,” said Søren D. Østergaard, a participating researcher from Aarhus University Hospital.

“We expect that the entire spectrum of severity is affected by the transition from daylight saving time to standard time, and since depression is a highly prevalent illness, an increase of eight per cent corresponds to many cases.”

The transition from standard time back to daylight saving time wasn’t associated with a similar or inverse change. Researchers speculate that the increase may be due to the sudden advancement of sunset, which kindly reminds us all that the dark months are here.

The study was published in Epidemiology late last month, just in time to serve as a global reminder that the time change is a drag. Yes, DST has a few benefits, and not just for farmers — and some of its drawbacks may be exaggerated. But putting aside the debate on whether we should keep it or abandon it, one thing is certain: if you live in an area that observes daylight saving time, the next few weeks are a good time to take a little extra care of yourself and with your mental health.