Enjoying an extra hour of sleep when Daylight Saving Time ends is always a delightful bonus — but afterwards, we have to cope with the fact that we’re about to see a lot less daylight for quite a few months. (Whomp, whomp.) That’s why knowing a few hacks for getting more sunlight after Daylight Saving Time ends can be useful at this time of year; the days might be getting shorter, and there might be less sunlight overall, but figuring out how to get in a few extra minutes of rays can make all the difference for our mental and physical well-being.
Interestingly enough, the idea behind the modern incarnation of Daylight Saving Time can be traced back to Benjamin Franklin, who proposed it as a means of conserving energy and making the most of the daylight hours, according to the New York Times. The notion officially went into practice in a number of countries about a century later; then, in 1966, the way it was implemented in the United States finally saw standardization through the Uniform Time Act.
Now, each spring, we’re faced with the prospect of losing an hour as Daylight Saving Time begins, while each fall, we gain one when DST ends. But as Daylight Saving Time draws to a close, we’re also usually finding ourselves adjusting to the shortening of days as winter approaches. Given that sunlight is, by this point, well-established as being essential for our health, how can we make sure we’re still getting enough sunlight during this period? It can take a few adjustments to your daily routine, but it can be done. These hacks might help.
1. Get A Light Therapy Lamp
You know what they say: Fake it ‘til you make it. In this case, that means faking sunlight in the absence of actual sunlight, since the shorter days of post-DST/winter in general means there is literally less of the stuff to go around. Light therapy has proven to effective for people dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD; according to one 2009 study published in the International Journal on Disability and Human Development, for example, an “improvement in mood can be detected after the first session of light,” even when the exposures to bright, sunlight-esque lights are as short as 20 minutes.
It’s best that you work with a doctor to figure out an effective light therapy plan that suits your personal needs, from how long you sit in front of your lamp to what time or times of day you actually do so. But after you’ve gotten that all squared away (and, y’know, acquired your sun lamp), the best part about this particular strategy is that it’s mostly passive in nature — that is, you don’t need to rearrange your life to make it happen. You just need to remember to turn it on at the appropriate time, and for the appropriate amount of time, and you’re good to go.
Options range from small, portable options priced at around $30 to bigger, slightly more elaborate (and very well reviewed) ones at $144, so there’s something to fit a wide variety of budgets. Look for something that puts out light measuring 10,000 lux in terms of intensity.
2. Position Yourself Near Windows Whenever Possible
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re stuck inside most of the time (which might be the case for any number of reasons — your job is inside; where you live is way too cold to spend extended amounts of time outside in winter; getting outside is difficult for you in general; and so on and so forth), see if you can’t finagle a little more time near or in front of windows. Fun fact: Per a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 2014, workers in windowless environments report poorer scores on both well-being measures and sleep quality measures, while workers with windows in their work environment not only got more light exposure during the work week, but also trended towards more physical activity and longer sleep duration.
So, if your workplace has flexible seating, nab a spot near a window when you can. If you’re a gym-goer, use equipment located by windows when it’s available. Hang out in whatever space in your home gets the most natural light. Gravitate towards windows whenever possible.
While we're on the subject:
3. Keep The Curtains Open
All that “positioning yourself near windows” won’t do any good if you keep the curtains closed all the time. It’s true that you might not always have control over the curtain situation wherever you are — but the times you do have some say in it, opt to keep them open. As an added bonus, if the room is in direct sunlight, it might help warm things up inside when it’s chilly out, too.
4. Add A Few Mirrors To Your Space
A commonly-recommended interior design tip for small or dark spaces suggests placing a few mirrors in strategic locations: Not only will it make the room feel bigger, it will also make the most of the light the room receives.
Since mirrors reflect light, putting a couple of ‘em up will help bounce light around the room. When it comes to bouncing sunlight in particular, this strategy is particular effective if you place mirrors opposite windows when possible. However, you can also place mirrors such that they’ll reflect the light at an angle, thereby spreading the light to darker corners or areas that might not otherwise see a whole lot of brightness.
5. Use Break Time To Get Outdoors
It’s frequently suggested that people in need of more sunlight alter their daily schedules during the colder months to maximize their outdoor time: Take care of any outdoor chores you might have in the morning; time your commute such that it happens during daylight; and so on and so forth. But that’s often easier said than done; if you don’t have a flexible schedule, or your work hours are such that you leave for work before sun rises fully in the morning and don’t head home until long after it goes down in the afternoon, then trying to get some sun in during your commute just might not be possible.
What might work better is if you try to get outside during your scheduled breaks. Take a walk around the block. Eat lunch outside, if it’s not too cold (related: please actually take your lunch break.) Run an errand in the middle of the day. Do whatever you can during your break time to get yourself in the sun for even just a few minutes.
It’s true that a quick break in the sun might not do a ton on its own for your daily dose of vitamin D — a 2017 study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment found that, although just seven minutes in the sun per day supply enough vitamin D, in January, it takes more than two hours of sun exposure to obtain that same amount of vitamin D — but it might help stave off seasonal sadness. Remember, even just 20 minutes in sun can have a positive effect on your mood.
(Of course, if you work at night, this, too, may not be possible for you; that’s when other strategies, like sun lamps will come in handy.)
6. Use A Dawn Simulator
Dawn simulators, also known colloquially as sunrise alarm clocks, work by mimicking the rising of the sun to get you up and going in the morning (instead of just jolting you awake with a loud noise). Starting anywhere between about 30 minutes to several hours before you intend to wake, the devices begin to brighten; they work with your body’s natural circadian rhythm to wake you.
We’ve known for some time that light therapy is generally most effective in the morning; a study published in 1998 in the Archives of General Psychology determined that the best time to schedule bright-light exposure as a treatment for SAD is “immediately upon awakening.” Although simulated dawn therapy is a little bit different than bright-light exposure therapy — indeed, bright-light exposure tends to work better for people with more severe symptoms, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders — it does still give you a little more sunlight than you might otherwise get in the winter, especially if you need to wake up before the sun has risen in order to get to work on time or what have you.
In contrast with sun lamps or light boxes, dawn simulator clocks usually have an intensity of no more than 300 lux. Options exist in a wide range of budgets, though, from this $20 pick to this $115 one. Both come highly recommended by the Wirecutter.
7. Plan Outdoor Activities — And Put Them In Your Calendar
Even if you’re not an outdoorsy person, you might still think about making a concerted effort to get yourself outside if your schedule allows, whether that’s on a day off from work or at some other time. And it’s actually not just the sunlight; it’s the greenspace.
Researchers have been highly interested in in recent years in the health benefits of spending time in greenspace — and generally speaking, the verdict is simple: Spending time in greenspace is good for us for a wide range of reasons. It’s worth noting that a recent meta-analysis of the existing literature published by the journal Environmental Research in 2018 did find that some of the research on the subject is limited by “poor study quality and high levels of heterogeneity”; as such, more research is needed. But there’s evidence supporting time spent in greenspace correlating with a reduce in the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure — so, y’know, get outside if you can.
Actually putting those outdoor plans in your calendar might help make sure you follow through on them, too. Research on the effectiveness of reminders and notifications has found that even simple reminders — ones that note the time and location of appointments and other commitments — are effective when it comes to making sure we actually show up where we’re supposed to be at any given time, so go ahead and write your activity down. A walk in the park? A hike in the woods? Apple-picking? All good options, along with many, many more.
8. Chomp On Some Vitamin D
Technically this suggestion doesn’t help out on the actual sunlight front — but it does help with one of the issues that can arise from a lack of sunlight: Vitamin D deficiency. To counteract the effects of low sunlight, try eating foods rich in vitamin D, like meaty fish such as salmon and swordfish, milk, and certain kinds of mushrooms. You also might think about adding a vitamin D supplement to your daily routine, depending on your food plan. It won’t solve the sunlight issue, but it can help keep you well-nourished while the days are short.
Unfortunately there's no substitute for sunlight that's truly one-for-one — but with a few tweaks to your regular routine, you can find ways to get a few extra minutes of the stuff into your life during the colder months. Good luck — and enjoy that extra hour the morning the clocks turn back!
Virk, Gagan, et al. (2009) Short exposure to light treatment improves depression scores in patients with seasonal affective disorder: A brief report. International Journal on Disability and Human Development, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2913518/
Boubekri, Mohamed, et al. (2014) Impact of Windows and Daylight Exposure on Overall Health and Sleep Quality of Office Workers: A Case-Control Pilot Study. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4031400/
Serrano, Maria-Antonia, et al. (2017) Solar ultraviolet doses and vitamin D in a northern mid-latitude. Science of the Total Environment, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969716320307
Lewy, AJ, et al. (1998) Morning vs evening light treatment of patients with winter depression. Archives of General Psychology, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9783559
Danilenko KV, and IA Ivanova. (2015) Dawn simulation vs. bright light in seasonal affective disorder: Treatment effects and subjective preference. Journal of Affective Disorders, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25885065
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McLean S, et al. (2014) Targeting the Use of Reminders and Notifications for Uptake by Populations (TURNUP): a systematic review and evidence synthesis. NIHR Journals Library, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK260107/