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Time change making you tired? 3 expert tips for recovering from daylight saving time

Could daylight saving become thing of the past?
Could daylight saving time become thing of the past? 01:59

Gaining an hour of sleep as daylight saving time ends on Nov. 5 might sound like a win, but experts say there are still ways that "falling back" can disrupt our health. 

"Despite the gaining or losing an hour, one of the things that we can expect is the light exposure (to change)," explains Blair Steel, a licensed clinical psychologist with Carrara Treatment Wellness & Spa. "And we know that less morning light can decrease levels of mood-boosting hormones, such as serotonin."

Being aware of these changes — and taking steps to address their impact — can also help shore up your defenses against the winter blues or seasonal depression, clinically known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. 

About 3% to 5% of people may develop SAD, says Vanessa Kennedy, director of psychology at Driftwood Recovery, explaining that it typically involves the onset of "depressed mood in the fall or winter seasons when weather conditions become rainy, cold and gloomy for an extended period of time."

"Reduced hours of sunlight that come along with ending daylight saving time in the fall can exacerbate these symptoms," she noted. 

So how can you cope? Try these tips: 

1. Use light to your advantage 

"Even though you may have an extra hour of sleep, it's important to balance that with having some light in the morning," Steel suggests. "If you go to work after (the time change), and you come home and you're driving home in the dark, that can certainly increase depression."

If your schedule or gloomy weather keeps you from experiencing natural light during your day, consider light-box therapy or special lamps that mimic the sun. 

"Indoor light-box devices mimic the effects of natural sunlight, contributing to normalization of hormone and vitamin levels and setting up the right biological factors to improve mood," Kennedy says. 

Or, consider changing up your surroundings temporarily if the weather affects your mood significantly.

"Going to a sunnier, warmer climate for a getaway, or planning to work remotely for fall and winter months if possible can be a way to ward off depression and maintain your happiness," Kennedy says. 

2. Exercise and reframe to boost mood

Need another pick-me-up when light is lacking? Try exercise.

"Regular exercise can increase serotonin levels and boost mood," Kennedy says. "While exercising outdoors may not always be possible during bad weather, exercising indoors or adopting outdoor fall or winter exercises that incorporate nature can be beneficial."

Kennedy also suggests reframing the meaning of reduced daylight to give it new significance. 

"When it gets dark early, you can enjoy different activities, such as movie nights, holiday lights, evening gatherings, s'mores by a fire, stargazing or developing a more thorough winding-down routine before bed," she says. "When you develop new associations between reduced daylight and positive activities, your mood can benefit."

3. Be aware of warning signs

For some people, increased light and movement might not be enough to avoid seasonal depression. If this is the case, Steel says you should be aware of some warning signs it may be time to seek professional help.

One common sign is an inability to experience pleasure.

"If there are things that you typically enjoy, and you just aren't able to feel that same level of joy, whether it's music or time with friends, that's definitely a red flag," she says. This may be coupled with increasing isolation.

"Isolation is something that you see with many kinds of mental health conditions," she adds. "So if you see if you're isolating, it's definitely time to get some help."

Other signs to look for include a dramatic increase or decrease in appetite or sleep, she says. 

If you are feeling depressed as the days grow shorter — or any time of year — there are treatment options, including therapy and antidepressant medications, that may help. 

"Talk to your health care provider about which treatment, or combination of treatments, is best for you," the National Institute of Mental Health advises. It offers some resources on its website for how to find help.

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