Is daylight saving time more harmful than helpful?

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Daylight saving

I emerged from the classroom expecting to be hit with a bright swath of sunlight, but I found only darkness instead. I checked my watch, confused, and found that it was only 5 p.m. 

Everyone around the country has been feeling this same confusion this past week as they adjust to the end of daylight saving time. 

On the first weekend of every November, everyone reverts back to standard time, and clocks are shifted backward one hour to preserve the maximum amount of daylight during the actual day. This helps keep people from making their trek to work or school in the dark. 

But when the days get shorter and the nights get longer and it’s dark by around 4 p.m., people start to be affected by the lack of sunlight they are receiving.  

According to Dr. David Avery from the UW psychiatry department, one in 10 people are affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which starts to set in right at the turn of the seasons when the clock changes. 

While SAD can affect people in different ways, the most common symptom is the onset of depressive moods right around the start of winter. When it starts to get colder and darker, this depression can become intense with relief found only once spring comes to thaw everything out again. 

This is directly related to the shorter days and longer nights that take place in the winter, something that is even more severe in the Pacific Northwest. This helps to explain why so many people in Seattle are affected by SAD: There is even less sunlight here in the winter than in other parts of the country.

Experts have also been finding a correlation between daylight saving time and SAD. 

Dr. Nina Maisterra from the UW Medicine Belltown Clinic explained that SAD has been linked to changes in circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock. This internal clock matches up to the external time and is what helps people to wake up naturally in the morning and feel tired at night when it is darker. 

Since daylight saving disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm, it also can place even more stress on people with SAD. 

Last year, the state of Washington passed legislation resolving that it will continue to stay on daylight saving time all year long.

This legislation didn’t have any actual impacts for Washington this year, since Washington is still waiting on federal Congressional approval, but more states are starting to favor this idea as well. 

While SAD is an unfortunate inevitability for many people, the effects and symptoms can be combated in a number of ways. In addition to the standard tips for helping symptoms of depression, including exercise, healthy eating, and spending time with loved ones, there are lamps that can be used to treat the symptoms of SAD. These lamps help boost serotonin levels as well as regulate the light exposure the user has. This is effective in working to sync circadian rhythm and external time.

“I got the [SAD therapy] light today and sat under it for two hours while doing homework and this evening has been the first time since living here that I’ve felt like my normal self,” California native and UW freshman Michelle Gibson said.

Gibson recommended that anyone feeling the effects of depression, anxiety, or the lack of sunlight seek out one of these lamps. 

Both the Ethnic Cultural Center and UW Hall Health Center can provide access to these lamps for whoever may need them. 

Anyone who is feeling the effects of SAD is not alone. There are many others out there who are working through the same issues. The Counseling Center can provide help with light therapy and other possible ways of treating seasonal affective disorder. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. 

Reach contributing writer Ali Heitmann at wellness@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @aliheitmann

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