Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Twenty percent of the population experiences some seasonal fluctuation in sleep and mood; up to 10 percent meet the criteria for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Although many people are affected in some way by the changing seasons, for most people, these changes do not cause problems. For people who suffer from SAD, there is a greater sensitivity to the lack of natural light in winter.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

  • Weight gain
  • Drop in energy level
  • Reduction in sex drive
  • Reduction in the quality of sleep
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Decreased concentration
  • Decreased creativity
  • Irritability
  • Inability to complete tasks
  • Change in appetite (especially craving for sweet or starchy foods)
  • Change in sleep/wake patterns (especially a tendency to oversleep)

Some of these symptoms may also stem from other seasonal stressors such as family holidays or the anniversary or recent loss of a loved one. If these symptoms are accompanied by continual feelings of deep depression, worthlessness or recurring thoughts of death or harming oneself, these are signs to seek help.

Commonly thought of as the “holiday blues” or Christmas depression, a season-long case of the “blahs” is a form of depression for some people. This condition takes on nearly debilitating proportions for some of its sufferers who may feel as though they cannot get out of bed all winter long.

Morning sunshine, so plentiful during the warmest months of the year, naturally suppresses melatonin, the body’s sleep inducing hormone. Dark winter mornings leave melatonin levels high and sufferers feeling sluggish for months at a stretch. SAD involves both biological and psychological factors.

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If you suspect that you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms associated with a depressive disorder, reach out to your health care provider.

As with any mood disorder, any treatment for SAD should be undertaken under the guidance of a qualified health professional. Exposure to bright light, known as phototherapy, has been found to be an effective method of treating SAD. Individual sensitivity to light therapy varies, so it is necessary to work with a health professional in order to determine the optimal intensity, duration, and time of day for the treatment.


Credit: Frontier Behavioral Health. Used with permission.