On any given winter day, Christine Zapata struggled to wake up. An alarm would sound near her bedside, but Zapata, utterly uninterested in starting her morning, hit snooze. Again and again and again until she was almost late for work at her chiropractic office. During lunch, she’d return home to steal one more blissful bout of sleep.
Before moving to Seattle, the San Francisco native had never experienced seasonal affective disorder, also known aptly as SAD. Three years after Zapata arrived in our oft-gloomy city, however, the wintertime blues hit her hard—and she’s not alone. An estimated 10 percent of Washington’s population meets the clinical criteria for seasonal depression (another 20 to 25 percent experience some degree of it every year). And light-deprived mornings can compound such a condition. This November when we go to turn back our clocks an hour as we’ve done since World War I (to presumably conserve energy), it may mark the final year we have to do so. On May 8, governor Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1196 which, if approved by Congress (states are only empowered to remain on standard time), will convert Washington to daylight saving time all year long. The time warp carries benefits and detriments alike.
For proponents, it comes down to public safety: A dark night can be twice as deadly as a dark morning. The results of a 2004 Rutgers University study found that the adoption of year-round daylight saving time saved up to 180 pedestrian lives per year. “No one wants to wake up in the dark,” says Steve Calandrillo, a University of Washington law professor who testified to the state senate in support of a similar bill, “but there are only so many hours of sunlight in the day, and we need to put them where it makes the most sense.” Jim Honeyford, a Republican state senator and longtime champion of the switch, agrees: “It’s simple,” he says, “people want more sunlight in the evening.” But not everyone will benefit from a later sunrise.
The time adjustment can exacerbate symptoms for those with SAD. “Every day, our body’s internal clock synchronizes itself with the external clock of the world: sunlight,” explains psychologist Jennifer Rough, whose clinical specialties include SAD. “Without a strong morning light cue, people will have a harder time getting up.”
Given the northern latitude of the state and that, on average, Western Washington sees only four to eight days of clear skies per month in the winter, the possible change poses a greater public health risk here than in other states. A delay in access to morning sunlight, says Rough, could lead those with SAD, along with the rest of the population, to experience greater sleep deprivation, chronic fatigue, energy loss, and increased appetite.
Washington isn’t the only state eager to stick to one standard time: California, Oregon, and Florida have all made moves to abolish the biannual clock switch.
Meanwhile, SAD sufferers brace themselves for the intensified health effects of the impending time shift. Zapata wonders, “Will it mean I have to use my light box even more?”