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Shining a Light on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Shining a Light on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as SAD, is a type of depression that occurs at specific times of the year, often starting in fall and continuing through winter. It’s different from regular depression because of its clear link to the seasons. Experts suggest that reduced sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt our body’s internal clock, leading to feelings of depression.

Learn the different Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms, and what causes it, along with our tips. Read on.


Symptoms of SAD are similar to those of typical depression but occur cyclically. Key signs include changes in appetite or sleep patterns, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, having low energy, and feeling depressed most of the day. It’s important to recognize these symptoms early for effective management.

What Causes SAD?

When the clocks go back in fall, we get less daylight in our day. Shorter days can make people feel moody or even lead to longer-term depression because of less sunlight.

This is because the change affects our daily routines, like when we sleep and eat. Studies have linked these changes to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

Our body has an internal clock, called the circadian rhythm, that uses light to control things like sleep and hormones. This clock resets every day. When there’s less daylight, our brain tells our body to prepare for sleep earlier, even if it’s not bedtime yet. This can change our energy levels, eating habits, and how our brain adjusts to new situations.

To cope with the time change, try to get sunlight as soon as you wake up. Keep your sleep, exercise, and meal times similar to before the clocks changed. Over time, this can help your body adjust to the new schedule.

Not getting enough light can disrupt your body’s natural rhythm, leading to too much melatonin, a sleep hormone, and not enough serotonin, which makes you feel good. This imbalance can make you feel down and tired. Other signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) are less interest in sex, eating more (especially carbs and comfort foods), and wanting to be alone.

SAD isn’t just about mood changes. It can also affect your thinking, like having trouble concentrating or remembering new information. People in northern states, where it gets darker earlier in fall and winter, are more likely to get SAD than those in the south. If your family has a history of SAD or depression, you’re more at risk too.

Relevant Statistics

SAD affects about 5% of adults in the U.S., with the condition lasting about 40% of the year. Interestingly, it’s more common in women than men and usually begins in young adulthood. These statistics highlight the significance of recognizing and addressing SAD.

Help for those with SAD

Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder vary, and may include any, or a combination of the following:

Let The Sun Shine In

Exposure to sunlight can greatly improve symptoms of SAD. Opening blinds, sitting near windows, or simply spending more time outdoors during daylight hours can help. Sunlight boosts Vitamin D levels and enhances mood, making this a simple yet effective strategy.

Use Light Therapy

Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light therapy box that emits a bright light mimicking natural sunlight. It’s proven effective for SAD treatment and is typically used for 20-30 minutes a day. This method can help regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle and improve mood.

Prioritize Scheduled Activities

Maintaining a regular schedule can combat the disruptive effects of SAD. This includes setting a consistent sleep schedule, eating at regular times, and engaging in regular physical activity. Such routines can help maintain internal rhythms and improve overall well-being.

Be Aware of Other Changes

In addition to mood changes, watch for other signs like changes in weight or appetite, feelings of sluggishness or agitation, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of hopelessness or guilt. These could be indicators of SAD or other mental health issues.

When to See a Mental Health Professional

If Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms persist or significantly impact daily life, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. They can provide a diagnosis and suggest treatment options, which may include medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of treatments. Early intervention is key to managing SAD effectively.


“Seasonal affective disorder (SAD),” Mayo Clinic,
“Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD),” American Psychiatric Association,
“Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder),” Cleveland Clinic,