Risk for this diagnosis rises with daylight saving time

Risk for this diagnosis rises with daylight saving time

It’s that time of year again when the clocks get turned back one hour and everyone gains a little more sleep. However, an extra hour of sleep Saturday night may not be enough to avoid the blues caused by early sunsets and dark commutes home.

Researchers from Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark concluded a study that shows the number of people diagnosed with depression at psychiatric hospitals increases immediately after the transition from daylight saving time to standard time.

The study is based on an analysis of more than 185,000 depression diagnoses registered in The Central Psychiatric Research Register between 1995 and 2012.

Aarhus University Hospital associate professor Soren Ostergaard said the depression rates are too pronounced to be coincidental.

“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 analysis,” said Ostergaard.

While the study was based on relatively severe depression diagnosed at psychiatric hospitals, Ostergaard says the time transition can lead to more severe forms of depression in society as well.

“The transition to standard time is likely to be associated with a negative psychological effect, as it very clearly marks the coming of a period of long, dark and cold days,” said Ostergaard.

Dr. Tahir Sheikh, a psychiatrist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, Downers Grove, Ill., says the time change can cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a form of depression.

“While most people assume their need to hibernate during the winter months is a personality trait, it could instead be a form of seasonal affective disorder. In fact, 20 percent of Americans suffer from this mild form of depression,” says Sheikh.

For example, people who suffer from SAD tend to sleep more in the winter versus summer and experience insomnia, irritability, an increased appetite and can be easily distracted.

Dr. Sheikh offers the following tips to manage the winter blues:

  • Soak up the sun – bundle up and walk outside during your lunch hour or take up a winter sport.
  • Spend time with others – strong social support is essential. Stay active by volunteering in the community, ice skating with friends or taking in the holiday lights with family.
  • Eat healthy – maintain a nutritious and well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meat. Good nutrition is essential to mental well-being.
  • Exercise regularly – dancing, biking, swimming, yoga and even brisk walking will increase endorphins and ease anxiety and depression.

“If you are sensitive to winter and find that these tips aren’t lifting your mood, it may be time to seek medical treatment. For example, antidepressants can be used proactively in the fall before symptoms begin, or other forms of psychotherapy can be used, as well,” says Sheikh. “You don’t have to suffer alone this winter.”

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About the Author

Johnna Kelly
Johnna Kelly

Johnna Kelly, healthe news contributor, is a manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. She is a former newspaper reporter and spent nearly 10 years as a public relations professional working for state and county government. During her time as a communications staffer for the Illinois General Assembly, she was integral in drafting and passing legislation creating Andrea's Law, the nation's first murderer registry. In her spare time, she volunteers at a local homeless shelter, enjoys traveling, photography and watching the Chicago Bulls.