Now that we've fallen back for the fall and winter, how can we adjust to the shorter days? It's true that this can be a difficult adjustment for many people. However, it doesn't have to be! There are things that you can do to make the entire process easier on your physical and mental health.
What is Daylight Savings?
Daylight Savings Time refers to the yearly practice of setting clocks forward one hour between the months of March and November.
In the United States, we set our clocks forward one hour at 2:00 AM on the second Sunday in March and we set our clocks back one hour at 2:00 AM on the first Sunday in November. These adjustments are called 'springing forward' and 'falling back,' respectively. The United States has officially observed daylight savings time since 1966. But why?
One of the purposes of daylight savings time is to save energy.
Since there are more hours of daylight in the evening, people consequently don't use as much energy to light their homes during that time. Back in the day, it also helped farmers have more daylight to harvest their crops.
That being said, a lot of people argue that these justifications are no longer relevant based on how much society has changed in 50+ years since most of the country started observing Daylight Savings Time.
At this time, Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo territories), Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands do not observe daylight savings time. On the other end, certain states, most notably Florida, have attempted to change the way that they observe daylight savings time. Florida's state legislature has approved the Sunshine Protection Act which would have Florida permanently observe daylight savings time year-round with no time changes at all.
However, any changes to a state's observation of daylight savings time needs to be approved by Congress at the federal level, and that hasn't happened yet.
How Can Daylight Savings Time Affect Us?
You may still be wondering what all the fuss is about when it comes to daylight savings time. Even though you may think that one hour here or there won't make much of a difference at the end of the day, that doesn't seem to be the case!
Humans are creatures of habit and we all like our routines. Obviously, falling back by an hour so that the sun goes down earlier can easily affect our routines. And even though falling back is considered by some to be the easier adjustment since we are gaining an hour of sleep rather than losing one, overall, we are losing an hour of daylight which can affect our bodies in many ways.
This is because our bodies run on a circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are basically our body's internal clock that runs on 24-hour cycles. Our circadian rhythm is heavily influenced by environmental clues, especially sunlight. This also contributes to our sleep-wake cycle where darkness signals that it's time to go to sleep whereas sunlight signals that it's time to wake up.
Even though the circadian rhythm is most commonly associated with the sleep-wake cycle, it also plays a role in other bodily functions as well such as metabolism, weight, and mental health.
All this being said, it should make more sense that daylight savings time affects our body and mood! At first, it's definitely difficult for people to stay up for an extra hour when we set our clocks back an hour. This is because our body is telling us that it's time to go to bed based on its internal clock, but it's not quite time yet thanks to daylight savings time.
Maybe you've felt like it's 10:00 PM when it's really 7:00 PM just because it seems like it's been dark outside for so long.
And while this might not seem like a big deal, losing daylight can actually have negative consequences on humans.
Sunlight helps us feel more alert and awake, so it may be harder to get things done after the sun sets so early in the fall. Sunlight is also important to our physical health, as it provides us with Vitamin D, which our body needs in order to keep our bones, teeth, and muscles strong and healthy. Getting enough Vitamin D in the winter can be difficult for people who work normal nine-to-five hours at an indoor office.
Even though you may experience a little bit of daylight in the morning, that's all you're going to get for the day since the sun will set before you can get off work and get outside. This is especially true for those who live in locations that are farther north. For example, the sunset in Portland, Maine, is going to be about an hour and a half earlier than the sunset in Key West, Florida, after we set our clocks back in the fall.
This means that those who live in northern locations are in for a long and dark winter that doesn't just affect their physical health, but their mental health as well.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) commonly occurs in the winter due to a lack of sunlight. Symptoms such as oversleeping, appetite changes, weight gain, low energy levels, insomnia can begin in the fall and worsen as winter progresses. These symptoms are combined with common symptoms of depression that include feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day; losing interest in activities you once enjoyed; having low energy; feeling sluggish or agitated; having difficulty concentrating; feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty; or having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
Clearly, SAD is not something to take lightly, and it is a very real condition that affects around 10 million Americans every year. But what can you do about it? It's not like you can change the sun. And while this is true, there are things that you can do to treat SAD and start feeling better.
Common treatments include light therapy, antidepressant medications, and psychotherapy. If you think that you or a loved one is suffering from SAD, make sure to talk to your doctor in order to get treatment and start feeling better.
How to Adjust to Daylight Savings Time
Perhaps the best way to adjust to daylight savings time is to use light!
As it turns out, our bodies don't just react to sunlight on its own but also bright light that's able to mimic sunlight.
For example, after 'falling back' you may want to keep your bright lights on for a little bit longer before switching to cooler lights so that you can stay awake longer. After 'springing forward' you may want to expose yourself to bright light when you wake up so that you're more alert and ready to take on the day.
In any case, it should take about a week or so for your body to adjust and for you to stop feeling tired or sluggish.
As you can see, it's definitely possible for you to prepare and react well to changes due to daylight savings time. It may be annoying at first, but humans are very adaptable creatures and we can adapt to this change as well!