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Welcome back to the darkest timeline. How to stay sane this winter

Jessica Roy, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

LOS ANGELES -- You've scarcely finished your Halloween candy and pan de muerto and are just starting to contemplate this year's holiday decor. Unfortunately, the grimmest of all annual holidays is upon us: the end of daylight saving time.

Welcome back to the darkest timeline.

At 2 a.m. Sunday, the clocks roll back an hour and the bleak winter days descend. Farewell, post-6 p.m. sunsets. Hello, feeling like it's 10 p.m. by the time you sit down for dinner.

It shouldn't have to be this way. And in California, we voted for it to not be: In 2018, 60% of voters said yes to a proposition to leave daylight saving time in place year-round. Most people hate changing the clocks, and the "spring forward, fall back" ritual doesn't actually help farmers or schoolchildren. Yet the tradition persists, and the vote was unfortunately not binding. Could we fix this at the federal level? Yes. But we haven't. Blame political inertia.

If I sound a little cranky about this, well, it's that time of year too. The shorter, colder, grayer days contribute to as many as 20% of Americans reporting "winter blues" every year. Between 4% and 6% of Americans develop symptoms that rise to the level of seasonal affective disorder — or, appropriately enough, SAD.

"We are no different than flowers and plants," said Erin Raftery Ryan, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Westside Los Angeles. "If we don't get enough vitamin D, oftentimes we too will wilt."

 

Symptoms of SAD include depression, increased appetite (particularly craving carbohydrates), weight gain, fatigue, excessive sleep and decreased sociality. Many of the symptoms overlap with clinical depression, but SAD happens only during fall and winter.

Lawrence A. Palinkas is a professor of social policy and health at USC who's studied seasonal affective disorder as well as the psychological effects of things like isolation, space missions and polar expeditions. SAD, he explained, is caused by prolonged exposure to darkness and cold temperatures, which disrupt our neuroendocrine systems, particularly the hormones that regulate mood. Basically: When we turn back our wall clocks, our internal clocks are getting thrown off too.

This year's time change lands its blow amid another pandemic winter and all the psychological symptoms and traumas we've endured in the last two years. People are already dealing with increased weight gain and alcohol consumption and financial upheaval on top of the effects of isolation, loss and trauma, Palinkas said. We're primed for a sort of psychological hibernation that modern life doesn't afford us.

Can Southern Californians get seasonal affective disorder?

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