That extra hour of sleep may add a little bit of spring in your step when coming off of Daylight Saving Time, but it has a decidedly different impact from what you may expect. Changing your body clock is never as simple as dialing the numbers on the clock back or forward an hour once a year.
Bright light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is a helpful way to treat the winter blues, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as well as some sleep disorders. SAD is a form of depression, occurring in the fall and winter months, when the amount of daylight and sunshine is reduced.
I live in New York and right now, the days are abysmally short. It starts getting dark around 4 PM, and that’s about when I start feeling blue. It’s hard to stay upbeat when the weather is so cold and so much of your life is spent under artificial lights. I can only imagine what it must be like in Alaska! Seasonal Affective Disorder runs rampant through the population during the northeast’s winter. In some people, it’s a mild feeling of dysphoria, just feeling down in the dumps. This is called sub-clinical SAD. In others, it’s a full-blown depression—the kind where you can’t get out of bed and can’t find pleasure in normal everyday activities. Severe SAD can be debilitating. Of course, like with most emotional disorders, sleep plays an important role—perhaps more than most in this case, since daylight is so closely linked to circadian rhythms. There’s a spring/summer version of SAD too, characterized by anxiety and restlessness, but we’ll be focusing on the winter variety here.