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How does daylight saving time affect your health?

November 7, 2022 • read

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How does daylight saving time affect your health?

Daylight saving time rolls around each year, yet it still takes getting used to. You get more sunshine in the evening of the spring and summer months but “lose” an hour of your day. When the clocks return to standard time in the fall, it’s darker earlier in the evening. Because of this change, people might have difficulty sleeping or waking up, amongst many other things.

If you’re concerned about health issues that crop up with daylight saving time, Maple can help. Maple is a telehealth platform with the largest online network of Canadian-licensed doctors and healthcare providers in Canada that you can connect with from your phone, tablet, or computer.

Here’s how daylight saving time affects your mind and body and what you can do about it.

What is daylight saving time?

Daylight saving time is the practice of turning the clocks ahead one hour in spring and summer to achieve longer daylight. Clocks go back one hour to standard time in the fall and winter. If you want to get technical about why we do this, you’d have to go back to 1915, when it all started in Germany.

The government’s solution to saving energy for battle during the First World War was to push the clocks forward one hour in spring. This way, people would have more daylight working hours and use less energy in their homes. Canada followed suit in 1918 but stopped daylight saving time when the First World War ended. Then, daylight saving time was reintroduced during the Second World War and officially used all year round in parts of Canada.

How does daylight saving time work?

Throughout most of Canada, daylight saving time begins at 2am on the second Sunday in March, when clocks “spring forward” one hour. Clocks “fall back” on the first Sunday of November, moving back one hour to standard time. In fall and winter, you’ll get an extra hour of sunshine in the morning, but it’s dark early in the evening. In spring, you lose an hour of sunlight in the morning, but it stays brighter for longer in the evening.

What are the benefits and downsides of daylight saving time for humans?

A few benefits come with daylight saving time, such as:

1. More light in the evening. You can drive home from work while it’s light out and enjoy recreational activities after work or school with that extra sun.

2. Decreased risk of night-time car accidents. Studies show that driving in the dark increases the risk of car accidents due to lower luminance.

3. Saving energy. Taking advantage of natural sunlight means using less artificial light, which can help save energy and money on your electricity bill.

4. Fewer robberies. Those few extra hours of sunlight contribute to a 7% decrease in break-ins following the clocks springing forward.

Unfortunately, there are many adverse effects of daylight saving time on your health. That’s because daylight saving time affects your circadian rhythm.

If you’re unsure of what circadian rhythm is, it’s basically your body’s 24-hour clock. A small region in your brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is your body’s central clock, controlling the circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm regulates body temperature, digestion, hormone regulation, and sleep-wake patterns. The SCN gets feedback from another small area in your brain called the pineal gland. The pineal gland makes and releases melatonin in response to darkness, or decreases melatonin production in response to light. This lets you know when to feel alert or sleepy. With daylight saving time, your circadian rhythm is thrown off.

This also affects your social clock, which tells you when to go to work, school, or see friends. Some people can adapt easily, while others — particularly those who already have trouble sleeping or mental health issues — battle with circadian misalignment or social jetlag as their body adjusts to the new time.

All this to say, daylight saving time may be bad for your brain and health. The downsides include:

1. Elevated risk of cardiovascular disease. Daylight saving heart attack statistics show a 25% increase in the number of heart attacks on Mondays after we spring forward compared to other Mondays during the year.

Researchers theorize this happens due to the stress of starting a new week and changes to the sleep-wake pattern. Interestingly enough, when clocks fall back in November, there’s a 21% decrease in heart attacks on the Tuesday following the clock change. There’s also an increase in strokes, with an 8% higher rate within the first two days of daylight saving time.

2. Increased risk of car accidents. Contradictory to the report of decreased car accidents with more sunlight, daylight saving time has also been shown to increase motor vehicle accidents due to sleep deprivation and circadian misalignment.

3. Mental health and other cognitive issues. Darkness in the early evening at the end of daylight saving time is linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and depression. The lack of sunlight suppresses the production of melatonin and serotonin, so if you have pre-existing mental health conditions, they can worsen.

4. Digestive and immune-related diseases. Circadian rhythm doesn’t just control your sleep-wake cycle, it’s also responsible for your digestive functions and can affect your immune system. One study showed an increase in cases of colitis flares for females aged 60 and over during the week after switching over to daylight saving time.

And if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a break in your sleep cycle may make your symptoms worse. This is because your gut slows down at night when you’re not eating and drinking and tries to repair damaged cells. But if your sleep cycle is thrown off, it may trigger more symptoms during the day.

5. Sleep disturbances. This one shouldn’t come as a surprise since a change in time throws off when you go to bed and wake up. Short-term insomnia occurs in 30-35% of adults because of daylight saving time.

But having trouble getting to sleep or daytime fatigue aren’t the only issues with sleep disturbances. A lack of sleep can cause concentration problems, difficulty thinking straight, poor judgment, irritability, excessive daytime sleepiness, and more.

If you find yourself having trouble sleeping, a sleep therapist can help. Sleep therapists manage, treat, and prevent sleep disorders and problems. During your consultation, a sleep therapist will analyze your sleep issues and create a customized plan to improve the quality of your sleep.

Who’s most affected by daylight saving time?

While anyone can be affected by daylight saving time, it can hit hard for those with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and SAD. A Danish study revealed an 11% increase in hospital visits for depression after the clocks went back to standard time.

Less exposure to sunlight specifically affects those with SAD, making it harder to balance their mood, which is often why bright light therapy is recommended. On top of that, the darker it is outside, the more time people spend inside and aren’t typically physically active, which can also trigger bouts of anxiety and depression.

Tips to help reduce the negative health effects of daylight saving time

There are some things you can do to help fend off the negative effects of daylight saving time, such as:

1. Getting outside in the morning light. To help compensate for the loss of sunlight in the evening, get outside early in the morning and soak up that extra hour of sun. Whether it’s a light stroll or just sitting outside with a cup of coffee, the sun is an excellent source of vitamin D, which can support bone health, lower blood pressure, and improve your mental health.

2. Keeping a sleep routine. While you might be tempted to go to bed early or at a later time, it’s best to stick to your normal sleep routine. The goal should be to get between seven to nine hours of shuteye each night. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time you normally would. Your room should also be around 18 °C each night, since your body temperature drops while you sleep.

3. Making good food choices before bed. This means no caffeinated drinks or alcohol four to six hours before you go to sleep. You can, however, drink decaffeinated chamomile tea or a hot glass of milk. Almonds, bananas, and dark chocolate can also help you unwind — just make sure you aren’t too full before your head hits the pillow.

4. Exercising in the morning. That extra hour of sunlight in the wee morning hours can make it easier to get out of bed and start exercising. Plus, when you exercise, you release endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine which can help boost your mood.

5. Seeking professional help. Since daylight saving time can worsen mental health conditions, reach out if you notice any changes. A mental health professional can help you devise strategies to cope with the time change, make the process much smoother, and may even prescribe medication.

So who is a mental health professional, and how do you get in touch with one? With Maple, you can see a mental health therapist who helps patients with various mental health conditions and emotional difficulties through talk therapy.

Or, you may want to connect with a mental health physician who’s a general practitioner trained in diagnosing and managing mental health conditions and can provide prescription medication, if necessary.

You can even see a health and wellness coach who can empower and support you to achieve your personal goals related to optimal health and wellness.

It’s not uncommon for your body to feel out of whack during daylight saving time, or for you to feel a little sad when the clocks fall back to standard time. But if you have a consistently low mood and depression during either of these times, consider putting your mental health first and get in touch with a mental health professional today.

This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional.

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