Some people get dark inside, too
“When the day is cut short and it gets dark so early, I find myself not wanting to do anything,” Deborah Brawders of Simi Valley said. “I just want to go home, get in my pajamas and go to bed.”
Feeling a loss of energy and focus is common following the shift to standard time from daylight saving time. The change may have seemed to be more abrupt lately due to the late date of moving the clock back an hour. It may even trigger some unusual feelings. “About three years ago, it really started bothering me when it got dark early,” Brawders said. That would correlate with the new hours of daylight saving time that were instituted in 2007.
Brawders, 52, may have a very mild version of a condition called seasonal affective disorder, S.A.D. Her symptoms are specific. “It doesn’t affect my ability to concentrate, but it does make me feel very nonproductive and noncreative,” she said. “I hate leaving the office in the dark, and I’m actually counting the days down until the time changes back in the spring.”
Ashley Bretting, a marriage and family therapist intern in Camarillo, described S.A.D. “It starts out with the shorter days and getting up in the dark,” she said. “When you get out of work, it is usually dark. When you go home you feel like your day is over, there’s no time to do anything.”
Bretting said that for most people who suffer from this mood disorder, it is usually transitory. “Often, people adjust to the time change and tend to bounce back.”
Traditional treatment can be helpful for the mild form of S.A.D. “Talk therapy for S.A.D. is excellent,” Bretting said. “Cognitive behavioral therapy is extremely helpful. If it warrants it, medication on a short-term basis may be helpful, like an antidepressant.”
However, seasonal affective disorder can become far more serious as it deepens into clinical depression. Dr. Vince Caimano is a psychologist who runs group therapy sessions in Oak Park for people with S.A.D. His definition of the mood disorder is slightly different.
“Seasonal affective disorder is when people are very sensitive to the lack of sunlight in the wintertime and, as a result of that, they get depressed,” he said. “There is a milder version of this called holiday blues, where people just have lower energy levels but they may not become depressed.”
Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between S.A.D. and the depression that can be brought on by the holiday season. “People have a lot more stress, they have expectations about how their lives are supposed to be at the holidays,” Caimano said. “There could be a lot of triggers and issues that compound the problem.”
Shorter days mean less exposure to sunlight, regardless of whether daylight saving time is in effect. According to MayoClinic.com, there could be several causes for S.A.D. The change in circadian rhythm with the diminished amount of sunlight could lead to feelings of depression. Fewer hours of daylight can also disrupt the balance of the natural hormone melatonin. And a reduction in sunlight causes a drop in the brain chemical serotonin, also possibly leading to depression.
Factors that may increase the risk of suffering from S.A.D. are being female and having other family members who are sensitive to the shorter days of winter.
A brief history of modern time
The idea of conserving energy by changing the clock twice a year is not new. It was first suggested by Benjamin Franklin in a 1784 paper as a way to save candles. Franklin was not serious; it was his wry take on satire. But it sparked others to think seriously about the benefits of having more hours of sunlight extended well into the summer evenings as well as a way to encourage people to rise earlier. The opposition to changing the clocks in the summer was equally entrenched in its position.
Railroad executives throughout North America clamored for uniform regulation of the clock and instituted standard time in time zones for railroads in 1883, urging governments to adopt standard time. Germany and its allies in World War I were the first European countries to shift the clock in 1916 in an effort to conserve coal. In 1918, the United States followed suit. In 1919, the time shift was repealed by Congress but only after overriding two vetoes by President Woodrow Wilson. Yet his successor, Warren G. Harding, disliked daylight saving time, calling it a deception.
Again, in 1942 during World War II, the country returned to a year-round daylight saving time, calling it “War Time.”
It remained in place for three years, at which point the change of time became optional in 1944 and remained so for the next 20 years. The decision whether to turn the clock forward in the spring was up to local jurisdictions, including which dates it would begin and end, and for how long each year.
The chaotic and unpredictable use of different time schedules led to the Uniform Time Act of 1966. It required a locality, if it had chosen to institute daylight saving time, to begin and end on specific dates. But the decision whether to change the clocks remained at the discretion of each jurisdiction.
Then came the 1973 Arab oil embargo, and Main Street America learned the urgency and importance of energy conservation. Daylight saving time was stretched to eight months from the original six months. The government reported huge savings in oil.
If something is good in small doses, it must be great in larger amounts so, in 1986, daylight saving time began three weeks earlier than had been the custom.
And at the signing of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, then-President George W. Bush expansively declared, “The Energy Policy Act of 2005 is going to help every American who drives to work, every family that pays a power bill, and every small business owner hoping to expand.” Under this legislation, daylight saving time was extended to the full eight months that has been in force since 2007.
Currently, Hawaii and Arizona are the only two states that remain on standard time year-round. And in Hawaii, all time is relative, given the relaxed and flexible nature of “Hawaiian Time.” Vacationers can just leave their timepieces at home.
Political ping pong
If a new law was embraced by the Bush administration, then it was predictably and equally opposed by the Democrats. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was no exception.
Illinois Republican and House Speaker Dennis Hastert had nothing but praise for the law, and he said it would lower the cost of oil for American consumers by encouraging domestic oil production. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 did this through a myriad of tax incentives and tax breaks for conventional energy industries.
California Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi criticized the legislation, saying, “This energy policy is yet another example of Republican catering to corporate interests at the expense of the public interest. Billions of dollars are going to the oil, gas and nuclear industries, and nothing is going to consumers paying more at the pump.”
Caught in the crossfire and buried in hyperbole from both sides was the greatly extended use of daylight saving time. Some industries profit from the later daylight hours such as sports and retail businesses. On the other hand, farming and evening entertainment, including prime time television, must deal with problems that the change in time creates.
Obviously, any business that makes or sells clocks is a bull’s-eye for the extra labor that goes into resetting the time twice a year.
There are also safety implications when the time is shifted. Although there seems to be a study supporting just about any and every aspect of the pros and cons of daylight saving time, traffic studies may be the most numerous. It is true that the extra hour of daylight in the early evening correlates with fewer traffic accidents during the evening commute. However, the dark mornings become more hazardous for drivers.
In 1973, when the Arab oil embargo disrupted American life to an extent never before seen in peacetime, daylight saving time was further extended so as to save gasoline and other oil-based products. Yet there was a marked increase in the number of morning school bus accidents, enough accidents so that the energy conservation experiment of extending daylight saving time was stopped after the first year.
Another health hazard in changing the clock, one that is the most noticeable when the time “springs” ahead, is the fallout from losing an hour of sleep. Overnight, the entire nation suddenly suffers from minor jet lag. Certain groups of workers are affected more than others. That is especially true when the work is hazardous and requires a high level of focus and attention, such as construction work. An increase in construction worker injuries has been reported in the first few days after the clocks shift forward.
Michigan State University researchers conducted two studies that showed a 5.7 percent uptick in all workplace injuries immediately following the change in time in March. Experts say a lack of adequate sleep is already one of the nation’s most pervasive health problems, and changing the time only exacerbates the dangers.
But the benefits, both economic and emotional, have carried the day. Even Winston Churchill endorsed the idea for Great Britain, saying that the extra daylight increases “the opportunities for the pursuit of health and happiness among millions of people who live in this country.” To which critics dubbed the time shift “Daylight Slaving Time” due to the puritanical implications of dictating a more rigid work ethic of rising early on an involuntary basis.
The economic benefits came into question after a 2007 study by two researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, saw an increase in energy costs with the advent of the current eight months of daylight saving time.
Laura Grant was a co-author of the study, and she said she had a hunch about daylight saving time. “I said, ‘I don’t think daylight saving time works. I think it has these counterintuitive effects that we’re not accounting for.’ ”
At that time, Indiana, which had been a patchwork of localities that did and did not change their clocks twice a year, became uniform as the entire state shifted to daylight saving time with the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Grant said access to the data from Indiana was a researcher’s stroke of luck. “It is something that economists call a natural experiment,” she said. “That is where a policy changes something so that you could test, like a scientific experiment, what happens before and after, due to those changes.”
Daylight saving time is something that is either appreciated or disliked. “Energy should not be the reason we practice it, because we found significant and strong results that cost energy,” Grant said. “We found when we did our energy modeling, it is really about climate control, heating and air conditioning use.”
For those who feel less than satisfied when the clocks are moved back an hour in the fall, Grant pointed out there could be a subtle reason for the discomfort. “One thing that has always bothered me is that we practice it off-centered from the summer solstice,” she said. “We really don’t practice it the same number of months before the summer solstice and after the summer solstice. It’s a little bit disorienting that it goes so far into fall.”
But there are possible solutions for overcoming S.A.D. and correlating symptoms associated with time and season changes.
Dr. Caimano said there is one very effective therapy called bright light therapy. “Up to 80 percent of people who have seasonal affective disorder can find relief by simply being exposed to bright light early in the day,” he said. “If they get about 30 minutes of bright light exposure that would be close to the kind of light that you have outdoors on an average day, their S.A.D. will remit — sometimes in just a few days, and usually within a week or two.”
There are special light boxes available without a prescription that can be purchased in stores and online and cost between $50 and $200. “It doesn’t really help someone who is not suffering from S.A.D.; it won’t energize them,” Caimano said. “But if their tail is dragging, especially in January and February, it is worth trying light therapy.”
Although light therapy is very safe, it is not entirely risk-free. “People that have any issues with their eyes need to be careful with light therapy and need to consult their physicians before using it,” Caimano said.
The bigger risk of light therapy is for people who have bipolar disorder, which is a combination of severe depression that sometimes cycles into periods of highly charged mania. “For someone who has bipolar disorder, bright light therapy should only be used if they are working with their psychiatrist very closely because bright light therapy can trigger a mania or mixed states where they are feeling euphoria but are also experiencing depression.”
Caimano also runs an online group therapy Web site, which is open to anyone who is interested. He said he started the Web site because there is an absence of S.A.D. and depression support groups that meet in Ventura County. You can be anonymous at the Web site with a username. It is at www.livedepressionsupportgroup.com.