The return to standard time makes us more depressed

A Danish study shows a spike in cases of depression in the weeks following the time change

In the night between Saturday and Sunday, remember to move the clocks back one hour. Your brain probably will do the same with the “hands” that regulate your mood. It appears that the transition from summer to winter may increase the risk of depression. To indicate this is a study published in the journal Epidemiology from the University of Aarhus, Copenhagen and Stanford.


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The researchers examined the medical records relating to more than 185,000 people who have been diagnosed with depression between 1995 and 2012. The data show an increase of 8% of diagnoses in the month immediately following the winter time return. Peaking too pronounced to be the result of a coincidence, according to the coordinator of the Soren study D. Ostergaard. “We are relatively certain that the cause is precisely the transition from summer to winter time, and not, for example, the shorter days or bad weather. In fact – says the researcher – we have taken into account all these factors in our analyzes.” And although the study is focused on the most severe cases of depression diagnosed in psychiatric hospitals, Ostergaard does not mean that the time change has an effect even on less serious problems. “We believe that all forms of depression, from the most minor to the most serious, can be affected by the time change, and since depression is becoming more widespread – precise – an increase of 8% corresponds to a high number of cases.”

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The study does not show the mechanism that links depression to return to winter time, but researchers have several hypotheses on the table: Pull back the hands of an hour, in fact, means “move” an hour of daylight from late afternoon (between 17 and 18) in the morning (between 7 and 8). “Probably – explains the researcher – we can benefit from less light that hour in the morning, because most of us at that time of day is in the shower, have breakfast, or is in the car or on the bus to go to school or work. When we get home in the late afternoon and we have some ‘free time, however, it’s already dark.”

“Besides the time change it is often associated with a negative psychological effect – concludes Ostergaard – because it marks the beginning of a long period of darkness and cold.”

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