About one in every three American adults already doesn’t get enough sleep, and the end of daylight-saving time can throw another wrench into the equation — even though the day “gains” an hour …
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Generally, people experience more difficulty “in the spring forward than the falling back” from daylight-saving time, said Kristy Dykema, a psychology professor at Front Range Community College. “But, that said, it has effects.”
Adjusting to the fall time change can take two or three weeks as the body’s circadian rhythms change, said Allison Hagood, a psychology professor at Arapahoe Community College. Those who have symptoms past that point could be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, she added, a type of depression some people experience this time of year.
Some people may bounce back within several days, but the impact may be greater if a person is already sleep-deprived or more susceptible to mental health issues, according to Dykema.
Those who have seasonal affective disorder symptoms — loss of interest in things a person used to enjoy, sadness, feeling sluggish, social withdrawal and even having thoughts of death or suicide, among others — should take a proactive approach in their routines, Dykema said.
“When you get up in the morning, expose yourself to some light — that helps to wake up your system,” Dykema said. Exercise releases chemicals that can ease depressive symptoms, she added.
For those without a history of mental health challenges, exercise is still a good way to fight drowsiness, Dykema said. Avoiding over-caffeinating in the evening and trying not to nap will help people adjust better too, she said.
And for those who aren’t back to normal after several weeks, a professional opinion might be the best way forward. Stigma still surrounds depression, but there’s no shame in reaching out for help, Hagood said.
“As a psychologist, I always feel if a person is struggling, (remember) not to do it alone,” Dykema said. “There are a lot of community resources out there to seek support and help from a professional.”
About one in every three American adults already doesn’t get enough sleep, and the end of daylight-saving time can throw another wrench into the equation — even though the day “gains” an hour in the fall rather than losing one toward the spring.
“Either way, biologically, you’re changing your circadian rhythm, the biological clock we live by,” said Danielle Hicks, a psychology instructor at Front Range Community College in Westminster.
The ensuing sleep disruption can come with a host of hurdles: mood problems, struggles with focusing, less precise control of movements and, of course, throwing off the sleep-wake cycle.
People also may be more emotional or may not receive information as well as usual, Hicks said.
“It feels as if you’re jet-lagged,” Hicks said. “I would ask yourself, if you’re jet-lagged, are you going to work on heavy machinery? Are you going to lead a major meeting? Are you going to make major decisions?”
Daylight-saving time ended in the wee morning hours Nov. 3, but the days are still approaching the “shortest day of the year” in late December — when daytime is shortest and night is longest — at the winter solstice, marking the start of that season.
That’s important for sleep because when the day gets dim, the body increases its amount of a hormone called melatonin, which helps induce sleep. After the fall time change, light in the morning — earlier than the biological clock expects it — can put a damper on that extra hour of sleep because it reduces melatonin, according to Hicks.
But the natural change in light as seasons change is more subtle than the human-made daylight-saving time, said Kristy Dykema, a psychology professor at Front Range.
“Daylight-saving time, that’s a more acute shift. Smaller, but more drastic in terms of how much time we have to prepare for it and adjust to it,” Dykema said.
As some adjust to the time change, they may not be out of the woods just yet. They may still be feeling the effects of seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression.
“For people (for) whom the adjustment in the first couple weeks is not sufficient to alleviate the symptoms, the symptoms can continue to be a challenge as the sunlight continues to decrease,” said Allison Hagood, a psychology professor at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton.
The disorder can include loss of interest in things a person used to enjoy, boredom, apathy and sadness, according to Hagood. Feeling sluggish, social withdrawal and even having thoughts of death or suicide also could be symptoms.
“People who don’t have a diagnosis can experience those symptoms to a lesser extent,” Hagood said. “Not across the board, but there is an increased likelihood. Most people who don’t have a diagnosis will see the (symptoms decrease) within a few weeks.”
Acknowledging that the time change can present hurdles is the first step to adjusting, Hagood said.
“Recognize that these changes in one’s self are possible,” Hagood said. “Our society is built on this idea of continuing through no matter what — continuing to work and be in one’s life the same way no matter what happens.”
At the start, tweaking a sleep schedule by 15 minutes each day leading up to the time change can help, Hicks said. That same strategy can work for kids, she added.
Sticking with predictable patterns, such as eating around the same time each day, also can help adjust, Hicks said.
Teenagers need roughly the same amount of sleep as adults but fall asleep later, Hagood said, and the time shift can hit them hard because they’re already sleep-deprived.
“My first suggestion is to work on having a more regular routine, even on the weekends,” Hicks said for teens. “Because they want to sleep in on the weekends, but that’s confusing their bodies with the increase and decrease in melatonin.”
Even furry friends can be thrown by the time change as their meals or walks come at different times.
“The interesting thing about pets is that without humans, they don’t have a clock — they just eat when they eat and sleep when they sleep. They have their own internal routine,” Hicks said.
As with people, gradually shifting pets’ activities leading up to the time change can do the trick to help them adjust, Hicks said.
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