Department of Human Services | DMHAS cautions: Turning back clock can increase depression
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Weeks following transition to Eastern Standard Time most problematic

TRENTON - The Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) today cautioned people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other forms of depression to be aware of a possible increase in symptoms during the transition into Eastern Standard Time (EST).

As families turn their clocks back an hour Saturday night or Sunday morning, and often check their fire alarm batteries at the same time, they also should remember to check on the welfare of loved ones who have problems with depression, especially SAD.

“The sun, and lack of sun, has a powerful affect,” said Dr. Robert Eilers, DMHAS Medical Director. “The change might not be immediately obvious, but people need to be aware and take anticipatory steps,” he said, noting that light therapy and exercise can help.

People who have or are prone to depression can experience more severe affects during the weeks following the transition into EST, according to a new study by researchers from the departments of psychiatry and political science at the universities of Aarhus, Copenhagen and Stanford.

Even though the initial transition results in an extra hour of sleep, it is offset by the extra hour of darkness later in the day, when more people are awake, commuting or outdoors.

An analysis of 185,419 severe depression diagnoses from 1995 to 2012 in Denmark psychiatric hospitals showed an 11% increase during this time period. The symptoms gradually decreased after 10 weeks, according to the study.

The brain is affected by light and boost serotonin, which has a similar affect as antidepressants; therefore, the lack of light can increase depression, according to a previous study by Norman Rosenthal, who first diagnosed seasonal affective disorder.

The researchers conducting the recent study wanted to examine the effects of moving to EST specifically because it affects the circadian rhythms of people around the world.

Eilers, like Rosenthal, recommends making time in the extra morning daylight hour to take a walk or engage in another outdoor activity to take advantage of the opportunity to get more sunlight.

Below are some of the precautions and steps that can help offset the loss of natural light during waking hours.

  • Use a light box, open curtains, and turn on more lamps.
  • Walk early in the morning to take advantage of morning light.
  • Try to decrease stress.
  • Put a timer on your bedroom light, set for a half an hour before you wake up.
  • Limit alcohol, which also affects circadian rhythms
 
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