Earlier this week, many of us “gained” an hour as clocks across the U.S. returned to Standard Time. And while you might have been grateful for the extra hour of sleep, it’s possible transitions to and from Daylight Saving Time may affect cognitive health and behavioral health.

Health Effects of Daylight Saving Time Changes

Since it was first instituted, the benefits of Daylight Saving Time have been debated. Proponents point to the potential energy savings and modest increases in public safety.

More recently, scrutiny regarding the possible negative effects of the time change on our health has increased. And research has shown at least two of these effects — disruptions to sleep cycles and increased incidences of unipolar depressive episodes — can have an impact on cognitive health.

Disrupted Sleep Cycles

Many people can provide subjective evidence of the time change disrupting sleep cycles, but a 2008 study quantified the effects. The study found transitions out of Daylight Saving Time increased restlessness during the night and reduced sleep efficiency by nearly 6%. Also, this study found that the time change in the fall was particularly disruptive to the sleep cycles of early-risers.

Increased Depression

A separate study published in 2017 looked at nearly 20 years of data to observe trends for depressive episodes following the transitions in and out of Daylight Saving Time. Researchers found an 11% increase in depressive episodes following the transition from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time each autumn. This increase was seen to dissipate over 10 weeks.

The Value of Regular Cognitive Assessment

As patients visit your practice this fall, be alert to changes in behavioral and cognitive health. Besides the potential for Daylight Saving Time to affect cognitive health, other seasonal ailments — such as Seasonal Affective Disorder — can impair life function, including concentration and cognitive efficiency.

With comprehensive cognitive health solutions from BrainCheck, physicians can set a baseline for their patients with an initial cognitive and behavioral assessment, as well as track the progressions and improvements in function with follow-up assessments. BrainCheck can also offer guidance for providing custom cognitive care plans for patients diagnosed with cognitive impairment.

See how using BrainCheck supports patient-centered cognitive care »


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About the author

Robert Cuyler, PhD


Robert Cuyler is a clinical psychologist with decades of clinical, management and consulting experience. He is a Clinical Advisor at BrainCheck and the chief clinical officer of Palo Alto Health Sciences. He previously served as the CEO of JSA Health Telepsychiatry and clinical advisor to MDLive/Breakthrough Behavioral. Dr. Cuyler received his Ph.D. in psychology from Louisiana State University and his postdoctoral fellowship from the Menninger Foundation.

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