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November 4th, 2011

What Works: SAD That DST is Ending

Dealing with the shortening days and the end of daylight-saving time



Every year, at the beginning of warm weather, I encourage everyone to get out in the sun and experience nature, but it’s important to respect the rhythms of nature and our body in cold weather too. This weekend, in the wee hours of Sunday November 6, daylight-saving time (DST) ends for the year. Though winter doesn’t technically begin for another month and a half, this always feels to me like the point where things change.

So I want to talk to you about two things: SAD and DST.

First, let’s clear up one thing about “seasonal affective disorder,” or SAD. Everyone is affected by the seasons. That’s not a disorder. That’s being human.

Unless you live near the equator, the length of days changes drastically during the year. In my hometown of New York, they peak at around 15 hours in June and shorten to 9+ hours in December. (In LA, it only ranges from 14-1/2 to 10, while in northern Scotland, the source of my genetic stock, the swing is from 18 to 6-1/2.)

Some people, without question, are debilitated by seasonal affective disorder; the reduced sunlight triggers their predisposition to depression in an extreme way and they suffer. For them, it’s entirely appropriate to look to mitigate the issue with light therapy and other focused treatments.

A time for introspection

For the rest of us, when the days are shorter, the sunlight is less direct and the air is cold, you are supposed to want to do less, sleep more, gain a little weight. A friend in Maine, where they know a few things about dealing with winter, says, “Maybe winter is a time for introspection. Fighting that, we can feel depressed.” It is by expecting our usual level of energy and productivity that we get down on ourselves and feed into a slothful negative spiral. It’s just common sense that when there’s less sunlight people tend to have less energy and adopt a quieter, slower pace. Don’t fight that. Work with it.

Nevertheless, there are things you can do to make the best of the season. Most of the advice for dealing with SAD that Therese Borchard offers over at Beliefnet is good for everyone in wintertime. For example, she recommends getting outdoors in what sun there is whenever possible. (I actually prefer the winter for hiking in the woods — the air is crisp and fresh, you don’t sweat and as you quiet down with your surroundings you realize nature’s much more active than you first thought. And there are no mosquitoes!) Go outside for lunch, at least to get it and bring it back, so you see at least a little sunlight. I suggested going out for lunch in my column on getting outdoors in the summer; it’s all the more important now. Or at least go for a brisk 10-minute walk each day. I just encourage you to see these things as taking care of yourself, rather than as fixing a disorder.

If you didn’t take my suggestion to use the summer months to go on a retreat, maybe this winter is the time. Or just build more reflective time into the day at home. Curl up and read a good book, perhaps a quiet spiritual one you’ve always meant to read, like Thérèse of Lisieux’s The Story of a Soul or the Kathleen Norris memoir, The Cloister Walk. Respect the slower rhythms. And really explore Advent this year! It is a traditional way of entering the winter season with reflection and contemplation; shifting gears, as we should.

Saving daylight

Now just a few thoughts about daylight-saving time. The real problem DST is designed to correct is the rigidity of the modern world’s scheduling. Before the 19th century, most people simply measured their day by the sunrise and sunset. Working and eating and sleeping times adjusted naturally to the changing seasons. This fit well with the high cost of nighttime lighting, and with the fact that in an agrarian culture, there was a lot of work to do in the summer, and not much to do in the winter.

Today, most people’s jobs are disconnected from nature; nearly everyone works indoors on the same schedule year-round. Daylight-saving time adds more daylight after work to shop and play, and reduces energy consumed by artificial lights at night.

But on the other end, setting the clocks back an hour when DST ends for the year means that (literally) overnight, most of us will start getting off work to find it already dark. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t get up by 6:30 in the morning, so setting the clock back means I simply lose an hour of daily sunlight. If you’re indoors working all day, you may see virtually no natural sunlight until the days have lengthened enough again next year.

Personally, I guess I’d like to see DST stay in effect all year. Stealing an hour of sunlight from the wee hours and adding it to the evening works for me year-round.

The other big problem with daylight-saving time is that the shift of a full hour happens all at once, so your body can’t absorb it easily. It’s a mini-case of jet lag twice a year. The time change confuses the circadian rhythms of your body just when it’s trying to adapt naturally to the changing season. At least in the fall, you’re “gaining” an hour (that is, the day of the change has 25 hours in it, so in theory you can sleep an extra hour), but it still messes up your internal clock.

Standard advice for dealing with jet lag applies equally well to the coming time change. Shift your sleeping routine by 20 minutes each day for the three days prior to November 6, so, when the clock is moved back, you’ll wake up comfortably that Sunday morning at your usual time. This doesn’t erase the problem, but it softens the blow. Also, eat a healthy diet, and attend to any of your other routines, so you’re as fit as possible heading into the change.

Do you have any tips or experience to deal with the shorter days of winter or the DST shift? Leave a comment below.

This column originally appeared in 2010.

The Author : Phil Fox Rose
Phil Fox Rose is content manager of Busted Halo. He's a writer, editor and content lead based in New York and writes the On the Way blog at patheos.com. He is coordinator for the New York City chapter of Contemplative Outreach, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for nearly 20 years. Phil has also been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others. Follow Phil on Facebook here. Or on Twitter here. philfoxrose.com.
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  • Tom

    I like to remind others, and myself, that “all weather is good.” Added to that would be that all seasons are good. I believe that and hope to live by it. I do not think that dark days are “gloomy,” as I often hear. I prefer to see them as introspective, reflective. As the darkness lenghthens in the fall, I like to see it, as this author suggests, as a time for turning to more introspective things. I find a kind of “coziness” in the closing in of darkness earlier in the evening. But, also, unlike many people, I work mostly inside and don’t have to brave the weather and climate to go to work and move around a lot during the day. We are all challenged to choose some good in whatever weather or season we are given. All part of the pilgrim journey.

  • Gayle

    Nice article. I wish our modern culture could pay more attention to our natural rhythms. I always feel like hibernating in the winter. As a nun, I have to get up early, so it’s dark and drive home from work in the dark and then just want to go to bed when I get home. I am very solar-powered.

  • Jake

    I would like an extra hour of light in the winter. When I get home I need daylight to do the outside chores. It’s not necessary in the summer when the sun sets so late, anyway.

    I don’t suffer from SAD, but I didn’t like DST as a child (going to bed in the daylight), as a parent (trying to get my children to settle down when it was still daylight), nor now as a grandparent and empty-nester.

  • k

    I LOVE summer! I need the bright light, the warmth enveloping my body, being able to cross the barrier between inside (house) and outside without having to change (or add) clothes (cumbersome coats, hats, etc) I love that my skin doesn’t dry out and that flowers bloom.

    I don’t like winter….

    As far as DSt goes…

    The debate about daylight sving time really breaks down along “nightowl”- “earlybird” lines!

    As a “nightowl”, extending daylight saving time and having it get dark one hour later actually DOES mean more sunlight in my day!! Since I never get up in the wee hours, I notice no difference whatsoever if the sun rises one hour later or one hour earlier in the morning (according to the clock)…

    But my day shortens literally by one hour when daylight saving time ends. (and it gets dark at 5 instead of 6).

    People like me obviously would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have that extra hour in the evening, to be able to go for a walk, or go outside and do yardwork or whatever after 5pm!

    People who get up really early and who walk or go outside in the early hours don’t really see that argument.

    There is one more thing I’d like to add however, regardless of whether a person is an early-bird or a nightowl, having one extra hour of daylight in the afternoon in winter is still more noticable than the extra hour in the morning…

    Even when I was in school and had to be out of the house by 7am and I actually did notice the difference between the sun rising before or after 7, there was not much use to that extra daylight. Since most people start work at 8 or 9, usually the hours of 6 or 7 am are spent getting ready, getting up, showering getting dressed, eating breakfast, driving, etc.

    However, when most people get off work at 5 and step out of the office building, already dressed (obviously), etc, there is a big difference if it is still light outside or of it’s dark. It just makes a person feel better!

    I think it has a HUGE impact on morale and general well-being to get off work and be able to step outside and it’s still daylight out. Otherwise it just feels like the whole day ends in the afternoon. Very depressing.

    Yes, I know the days are shorter and therefore more depressing anyway, but having that extra hour of a chance at light at the end of the day would be a nice help!!

    I would say let’s abolish DST and just change our time to what it would be under DST all year long. Here in Va that would mean that the earliest it would get dark is 6pm! …. I think that would be nice :-).

  • Sally Scuderi

    I love all the seasons…. I live in upstate NY so I do not have a choice. I love early morning light, but I also like the quiet that going back to regular time brings, just in time for Advent and that introspection. I wish we would just leave all the time changing back in the days when it made more sense. So, either leave it at DLS or normal EST and Do NOT CHANGE IT!

  • Matt

    For those of us who experience direct sunlight as if we were being stabbed in the eye with an icepick (ie, migraine sufferers), the onset of winter is a special blessing. :)

    I for one look forward to the end of DST. I’ll be arriving at work at or before dawn, and leaving either after dusk or at least after the sun is mostly hidden behind skyscrapers in the city and trees along the highway. And I won’t even have to keep up these 10.5 hour work days to do it. :)

    Plus, no more heat! I can once again control my own body temperature simply by adding a layer of clothing.

    Yay, winter! Thank you, God!

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