As Daylight Saving Time ends in Sunday’s wee hours and most Americans wind their clocks back, some people can find it difficult to adjust to falling back.
With days already growing shorter and nightfall getting an hour’s head start, the change can interfere with the body’s natural rhythms, said Dr. Sam Fleishman, chief medical officer of Cape Fear Valley Health System. He is board certified in sleep medicine and psychiatry.
Humans, he said, are wired to be awake during light and asleep during dark.
“As a time change occurs,” he said, “your circadian rhythms have to adjust to the time.”
The good news is the fallback time is much easier on our circadian rhythms, Fleishman said.
But for those who find themselves having trouble making the transition, the best way to train your body to stay up later is to get more exposure to sunlight in the early evenings, especially at dusk around 5 or 6 p.m.
As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, many people will begin to feel psychological symptoms known as seasonal affective disorder. The Mayo Clinic defines seasonal affective disorder as period of depression that begins around this time every year and includes a noticeable loss in energy, moodiness and depression.
The seasonal changes, Fleishman said, can have an impact on bodily systems, including the pituitary gland and the hypothalamic system, and can increase the severity of bipolar disorder, mood disorders and depression.
As many as one in five people in the U.S. feel some psychological effects as fall settles in. About 6 percent of Americans, especially in northern climates, experience a marked seasonal affective disorder and another 14 percent feeling a milder form of “winter blues,” according to a 2008 article of the journal Psychiatry.
Fleishman said there are several ways to battle these symptoms, including light therapy, maintaining a routine in your sleep schedule and structure in your day.
Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising can also be very effective, he said.
“Exercise has great benefits,” he said. “If you’re prone to seasonal depression, try to continue that through this time period.”
And when stressors arise, he said, it’s important to deal with them internally, with a support system or through therapy.