By Dr. Penelope Chavez-Frigon
We have all heard the saying, Fall Back and Spring Forward to remember how to change our clocks for Daylight Savings Time. Does changing the clocks have any effect on mood? When we change the clocks in the fall (fall back) we get an extra hour of sleep for one Sunday, but night time seems to come very early the next evening. Although it may not appear to be too dark in the mornings anymore, it starts getting dark as early as 6pm. What does that do for our mood, if anything?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is now labeled in DSM-5 as Major Depressive Disorder with seasonal pattern. This means that for some people who do not display any significant symptoms of depression during the majority of the year, the winter months bring symptoms of depression including increase fatigue, lack of motivation, feeling of worthlessness, feelings of hopelessness, increased problems in attention and concentration. Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan (2014) found the prevalence rate for SAD to range from 1.4% in Florida to 9.9% in Alaska. The closer a location is to the equator, the more sunlight it will have through the winter months.
Sunlight is important for mood because it can affect the production of serotonin and/or the way that the brain uses serotonin. Appropriate serotonin levels are important for a healthy, happier mood. Lower serotonin levels are associated with an increase in depression. What can someone do if they find they are experiencing a lower mood during winter months? A few ways to naturally increase serotonin include 1) increase physical activity, 2) reduce sugary snacks and foods high in carbohydrates, and 3) get some sunlight when possible. Remember to consult your physician before engaging any strenuous activity and use proper sunscreen when out in the sun.
If you finding yourself experiencing a significant increase in depressive symptoms, please consult your primary care provider to determine if mental health treatment is indicated.