How to Cope With Less Sunlight After Daylight Savings Time Ends

Woman in bed next to a light therapy lamp on the nightstand

Photo and Co / Getty Images 

Key Takeaways

  • Daylight Savings Time typically ends the first week of November.
  • Setting clocks back an hour, effectively decreasing exposure to sunlight, can have seriously negative effects on mental health.
  • Daylight savings time has already been linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and experts say 2020 conditions will only exacerbate symptoms.

Daylight Savings Time (DST) ends in November, which means we lose an hour of sunlight as we turn back our clocks. While the routine was implemented in the U.S. nearly 100 years ago as a means of saving energy, that extra hour of darkness has proven a detriment to mental health.

“Natural light helps our mood," says psychotherapist Amy Morin, LCSW. "It has a big impact on how we feel.”

Seasonal Affective Disorder

As we transition into winter and the days get shorter and darker, many individuals struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Less exposure to sunlight disrupts our circadian rhythms and causes both a drop in serotonin and spike in melatonin, which can lead to feelings of drowsiness and depression.

"This is a unique mood disorder because it is a direct result of weather and location," says psychiatrist Julian Lagoy, MD. "In southern states the incidence of seasonal affective disorder is very low, whereas in northern states like Alaska the incidence is significantly higher. This is because we are reliant on sunlight both for our physical and our mental health."

Julian Lagoy, MD

This is a unique mood disorder because it is a direct result of weather and location.

— Julian Lagoy, MD

Research shows DST can have a great effect on this condition. A 2017 study found hospital admissions for depression peaked directly after the time change.

Symptoms of SAD can include difficulty focusing, increased appetite, over-sleeping, weight gain, and feelings of irritability and sadness. "During the day, if you don’t have much sunlight and not much physical activity, all of those factors are sort of perfect recipe for depression in winter,” Morin says.

Strategies to Cope

Even after DST ends, all hope is not lost. Morin reminds us it's important to be proactive if you know you're more likely to feel depressed come winter. There are strategies that can help you tackle SAD feelings.

Lagoy suggests practices like exercising, eating well, and something as simple as opening all the blinds in your living space to optimize natural lighting. If there's not much natural light to be had, consider investing in a light therapy lamp.

In numerous studies, light therapy lamps have proven effective treatments for SAD. Morin suggests getting some sun first thing in the morning for maximum benefit, whether that means going outdoors or turning on your light therapy lamp. “That can help wake up the brain and release all those feel-good chemicals that help ward off depression to feel happier," Morin says.

It's also important to make time in your week for pleasant tasks. And physically writing these events into your calendar can have a huge impact on mental wellness—giving yourself something to look forward to kicks off a mood-improving domino effect.

“When you actually do that thing, you get a second boost in your mood," Morin says. "And then after you’ve created a positive memory, you get a third boost in your mood."

Should DST Stay?

The concept of DST has become increasingly controversial over the years, and many argue it's outdated. The European Union even voted earlier this year to ditch DST come 2021.

Amy Morin, LCSW

From a safety standpoint, it’s troubling. And with the impact it has on people’s psychological health, I can't imagine too many reasons why we should keep Daylight Savings around at this point.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

Beyond the increased experience of depression in exiting DST, the beginning of DST (in March) comes with its own issues. Research shows the spring time change is linked to sleep deprivation and an increase in fatal car accidents.

What This Means For You

If you know you're prone to seasonal depression when turning back the clocks, get proactive about coping strategies. Exercise, diet, and time spent outdoors can all positively impact mood and mental health. At the very least, a light therapy lamp can help you through the darker days of winter.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Melrose S. Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approachesDepress Res Treat. 2015;2015:178564. doi:10.1155/2015/178564

  2. Hansen BT, Sønderskov KM, Hageman I, Dinesen PT, Østergaard SD. Daylight Savings Time transitions and the incidence rate of unipolar depressive episodesEpidemiology. 2017;28(3):346-353. doi:10.1097/EDE.0000000000000580

  3. Terman M. Review: light therapy is an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorderEvidence-Based Mental Health. 2006;9(1):21-21. doi:10.1136/ebmh.9.1.21

  4. The Guardian. European parliament votes to scrap daylight savings time in 2021.

  5. Fritz J, VoPham T, Wright KP Jr, Vetter C. A chronobiological evaluation of the acute effects of daylight saving time on traffic accident riskCurr Biol. 2020;30(4):729-735.e2. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2019.12.045