Does daylight saving impact our mental health?
Daylight savings time (DST), is the practice of manipulating clocks by one hour two times a year, so darkness falls later during the warmer months, or earlier during the colder months. To do this, clocks are set ahead in the spring and moved backward again in the fall with common phrases such as “spring forwards” and “fall back” reminding us what to do in each time of year.
Although the purpose of DST originates in farming, energy-saving, and making use of sunlight in the spring, summer, and fall evenings, many people transfer the idea of DST to sleep lost or gained. For example in the spring, moving clocks forward by one hour means that the following day, your alarm will ring one hour earlier than usual, although the time will read the same. In the fall, however, this hour is gained back, meaning that our day will begin one hour later than we are used to, thus giving us an extra hour of sleep. Although beginning and end dates vary, DST is used in over seventy countries around the world. Meaning DST affects over one billion people every year giving cause for exploration into the benefits, disadvantages, and value it may or may not still hold in society today.
Moving the clock forward changes the time so the sun sets later which adds an extra hour of natural daylight to our afternoon schedules. This extra sunlight is said by advocates of DST to motivate people for more outdoor activity during these months. By getting out of the house more, benefits include not only to physical health by counteracting a sedentary lifestyle, but also to our mental health and well-being for the simple reason of behavioural activation.
This extra sun time, in turn, also benefits the tourism industry by more time to shop, spend, and go to events that can profit from having brighter evenings. One could also argue that when out of the house and with more natural sunlight, we are saving artificial energy that is consumed by indoor artificial lighting, screens, and other technology. Furthermore, and potentially one o
f the most solid arguments for the cause of DST, is the factor of increased safety due to increased light. According to Buckle, studies have shown that pedestrian fatalities decrease by 13% and robberies by 7% in correlation with the spring shift to DST.
While outdoor activity, sun, motivation, economy, and energy saving are benefits for DST, there are also significant disadvantages that should not be overlooked. Some disadvantages could even be contradictory to its benefits. Take the benefits of energy consumption for example now in modern society computers, air conditioners, T.V. screens, and other technologies are often using energy regardless of if the sun is up or not, meaning DST is actually somewhat insignificant.
Similarly, an initial benefit like the increased road safety in the summer months can be counteracted by the disadvantage of darkness early during the winter months after moving clocks backward by an hour. During this time, many people will wake up in the natural darkness of the winter and now, also need to drive home in the darkness. This, in turn, is not only more dangerous for drivers and pedestrians but also reduces the serotonin release that accompanies exposure to sunlight – thus making individuals essentially, less happy.
Research also demonstrates that although people may spend more money if they are out of the house on bright evenings, the economic cost of DST is difficult to determine when considering tiredness and productivity at work when adjusting to the wake-up time change. Tiredness, additionally, increases the chances of road collisions which could also contradict a benefit of road safety. This is the double-edged sword of DST.
Sleep and DST
As mentioned above, the main association that people make to DST is its connection to and impact on our sleep schedules. According to Pacheco and Rehman (2020), the transition from standard time to DST that entails more morning darkness and evening brightness delays the natural sleep-wake cycle guided by our circadian rhythms, which essentially makes us feel tired in the morning while alert in the evening.
This can also contribute to sleep loss – which is known to affect both mental and physical health. You can read more about sleep loss in our previous blog https://cmaphealth.com/insomniablog/ . While most people can adapt to time changes and DST fairly easily, many people find the time change outdated and no longer useful in today’s society. The double-edged sword that brings both benefits with disadvantages are why this topic is a classic debate. What are your thoughts on DST?
About the Author:
Olivia Lundy is one of our Registered Psychotherapists (Qualifying) and therapist under supervision at CMAP Health. She has an Honours Bachelor’s Degree in Behavioural Psychology from St. Lawrence College and is currently finalizing her Master of Arts Degree in Counselling Psychology at Yorkville University. While also completing her Level 2 Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Training Program with our schooling partner Unified CBT Academy enhancing her skill sets. She has applied for registration with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO). To find out more about Olivia you can review her profile.