Mayo Clinic Minute: How change in sunlight can affect your mood

Many parts of the U.S. – and the world — will soon “fall back” as daylight saving time ends and clocks fall back one hour. This year, the change takes place in the U.S. at 2 a.m. local time on Sunday, Nov. 5. That means an extra hour of sleep – and earlier sunrises and sunsets.

How does less sun affect your mood and level of energy? Dr. Jesse Bracamonte, a Mayo Clinic family medicine physician, says sunlight can influence the levels of neurochemicals in the brain.

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“People can feel more tired with less light due to the neurochemical or brain hormonal changes that occur with a change of season or less light. A common chemical that regulates that is called serotonin,” says Dr. Bracamonte.

But what happens when you have less exposure to the sun and your serotonin levels are off?

“Your mood may be off, your sleep may be off, the way you regulate your mood cycle — whether you’re happy or you’re feeling a bit down — can be off. And that can have a downstream effect just the way you feel in general,” he says.

Dr. Bracamonte says there are things you can do to feel better.

“If you can, get sunlight. Get plenty of rest. Get exercise, be active. Make sure to eat a well-balanced diet full of fruits and veggies,” he says.

And consider a light therapy lamp. They are designed to simulate natural sunlight.

woman sitting with a light therapy lamp for SAD or depression
Using light therapy can help with mood

“In many cases, I do recommend light therapy for people who aren’t getting enough sun to help with mood and balance those neurochemicals out. It’s one of the treatments for improving moods, particularly during the gloomy season,” says Dr. Bracamonte.

As the time change date approaches, here are two things you can do to alleviate the sleep disturbance that may come along with it.

  • Adjust your internal clock gradually
    In the days leading up to the time change, adjust your sleep and wake times in small increments so your body can transition gradually. Shift your bedtime and wake time in 15- to 30-minute increments.
  • Spend time outdoors
    Sunlight affects your body’s circadian rhythm, and spending time outdoors can alleviate feelings of fatigue that often accompany time changes.
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