ANNAPOLIS – Not only will Marylanders get an extra hour of sleep this weekend, but they also may be happier for a little while.
That’s because when daylight-saving time ends at 2 a.m. Sunday, Marylanders everywhere will have more exposure to bright sunlight when they first wake up, a key component to a happy outlook, one expert says.
Evenings, however, may be another story, say other experts.
“The treatment of choice for winter depression is bright light exposure scheduled immediately upon wakening,” said Al Lewy, psychiatry department vice chairman at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. Lewy treats and studies winter depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder.
“There are two theories about why we get depressed in the winter,” said Lewy. These are the shorter day and the later dawn, he said.
But for a couple of weeks following the end of daylight-saving time, an earlier dawn will make people feel better, that is until the days get shorter and the sun rises later, said Lewy.
This brightening side effect is often lost on many, said Dr. Michael Terman of the Winter Depression Program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.
Many people sleep with the shades closed, so they don’t benefit from early morning natural light, he said.
Signs of winter depression include fatigue despite an increase in sleep, increased appetite with a preference for foods like pastas and sweets, increased weight gain and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, said Lewy.
About twice as many people, 6 to 10 percent, experience a less severe condition – the winter doldrums, said Terman. This form of the winter blues is characterized by a slowing down, difficulty getting work done, difficulty getting to work on time and a general feeling of malaise, he said.
Terman, who said these forms of depression may be triggered by the shift back to standard time, recommends sufferers go outdoors for an early morning walk before they head off to work. And, he said, don’t take the sunglasses.
Don’t postpone this walk until after work during standard time, according to Susan Ferguson, vice president of research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Ferguson was involved in a study that found an increased incidence of pedestrian fatalities during standard time caused mostly by the extra hour of darkness during evening rush hour.
As it gets darker, the number of fatal crashes increases, said Ferguson. “Going back to standard time is not a good thing,” she said.
“It’s all down to the change in light levels,” Ferguson said. “If you could extend daylight-saving time, that would save lives.”