Limit the Effects of Daylight Saving Time and Beat the Winter Blues

23rd October 2019

Daylight Saving Time on Sleep


Every year, on the last Sunday of October, the clocks go back 1 hour to mark the end of Daylight Saving Time (DST). Although this does mean you can get an extra hour in bed, it can have some negative consequences on your recovery.

Britain first adopted Daylight Saving Time in 1916, after Germany. New Zealander George Vernon Hudson first proposed the modern idea of daylight saving in 1895 with William Willetts proposing a similar scheme for the UK in 1907. The British Government had always refused to introduce a DST scheme, as they believed it to have little value. However, by 1916 Britain and Germany were fully engaged in the First World War. Germany, Austria and Hungary had implemented the switch to DST on 30th April that year, Britain then followed quickly on May 21st, deciding any system that could save fuel and money was now worth trying.

This year the clocks go back at 2am on the 27th October. To minimise the effect on your recovery, the night before the clocks change you should go to sleep an hour later than usual. This will ensure you sleep for the same amount as you usually would, even though your wake time will technically be an hour later, you should be able to easily make the transition.

DST, paired with the darker, shorter days can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), otherwise known as the winter blues. SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, with the symptoms usually being more severe during winter.

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • irritability
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight

If you feel you are struggling with SAD, you should visit your doctor.

The exact cause of SAD is not clear, but it is likely to be due to the reduced exposure to sunlight (blue light) during the darker winter period. A reduction in blue light will increase your melatonin production, which is your ‘sleep’ hormone, leading you to feel fatigued. A lack of blue light can also lead to a reduction in serotonin, your ‘wake’ hormone which affects your mood, appetite and sleep. The darker days and DST can also disrupt your circadian rhythm as your body uses sunlight to set various functions, such as when to wake up.

The key technique we use in elite sport to combat DST and SAD is blue light, anything you can do to increase your exposure will positively benefit you, if used at the right times. During winter try to get outside during daylight hours as much as you can, although the outside light levels may still be low, it will be a lot better than being indoors all day. If you work in an indoor environment, try to make time every 90 minutes or at least on breaks, to get outside for a minute. It may also be useful to purchase a daylight lamp or wake up light, these are artificial forms of blue light, but can have the same benefits as direct sunlight. You can find a variety of blue light products here. The best times to use blue light are as soon as you wake, to give yourself a kick-start of energy, and throughout the day, especially if you experience an afternoon slump. Always ensure you reduce your exposure to blue light in the evenings, or at least 90 minutes before sleep, so your body can begin to produce melatonin to allow you to sleep.

Also ensure you are having regular recovery breaks throughout the day. Split your day up into 90 minute segments from when you wake and aim to have small recovery breaks every 90 minutes to help combat daytime fatigue. These do not have to be major breaks, just a quick break from what you are doing to give your mind time to recover. These regular recovery breaks will add up during the course of the day to reduce fatigue and increase alertness.