Seasonal Affective Disorder

from Billings Clinic

The below is nothing new about Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Even if you feel you might suffer from SDA, you’ve likely seen the bullet points. But are you doing anything about it?  Read on – and act! – the MoFi Staff.


Do you swing in the spring and bawl in the fall?  Are you on a bummer till summer?  If so, you’re not alone.  Millions of Americans suffer seasonal ups and downs from a syndrome called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.


What is seasonal affective disorder?


The shorter, darker days of winter can cause people to experience a specific type of depression called seasonal affective disorder or SAD.  SAD symptoms include increased sleep, less productivity , less energy for recreation and sex, and feeling down or depressed for no particular reason.  People who suffer from SAD also tend to eat more (often craving starches and sweets) which , when added to a lower activity level, may lead to weight gain.


The exact cause of SAD is unknown. Researchers believe the symptoms are somehow triggered in genetically susceptible individuals by insufficient sunlight.  This is most likely to occur during the winter months.Daylight infographic.jpg

Research suggests that sunlight affects the production or availability of certain neurotransmitters (serotonin and melatonin) in the brain chemistry , which in turn affects mood. Though SAD can affect men and women of all ages, including children, women are more often affected than men and the illness usually shows itself between the ages of 20 and 30.


How is SAD treated?

Because the symptoms of SAD are related to sunlight deprivation, one of the most effective treatment methods is to increase the person’s exposure to artificial sunlight.   During light therapy, a patient sits at eye level in front of a light box that contains full-spectrum fluorescent lights. The light is bright, about 2,500 lux (a measure of brightness).  A well-lit room is only about 500-750 lux, and a bright sky is about 100,000 lux.  The light must be allowed to enter the person’s eyes.  This can be accomplished by placing the light in a position which allows the person to watch TV or read while frequently glancing at the light.  The light exposure at the back of the eyes positively affects the metabolism of the brain chemistry. Light therapy should be used under the supervision of a psychiatrist.  Other suggestions to increase light exposure include:

  • take a walk outside every day
  • install a skylight inside
  • move, or spend your vacation in a sunny location-further south for longer days
  • paint rooms with bright colors
  • get regular exercise
  • eat a healthy diet
  • avoid oversleeping
  • get counseling
  • talk to your physician about anti­ depressants or light therapy which are helpful in the treatment of SAD


How does SAD differ from other kinds of depression or health problems?


Many illnesses and conditions can cause depression and lethargy.  It is important to get a thorough physical exam to rule out other medical problems.  Only one obvious distinction exists between the symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder: SAD sufferers find relief during spring and summer while those suffering other types of depression seem unaffected by seasonal changes.  Proper treatment requires differentiating SAD from other kinds of depression.  Diagnosis also involves ruling out


thyroid dysfunction, hypoglycemia and viral infections.


While many people experience the winter blahs or cabin fever during the winter season, if the symptoms persist and affect your everyday life, work or relationships, evaluation and treatment may be needed.


If you have questions you would like to discuss with a registered nurse, contact the Billings Clinic Healthline.


This publication is designed to be a general aid to help you better understand your health concerns. It offers you current health information and suggestions, however it is not all-inclusive. The goal is to help you work with your primary care physician toward improving your overall health.



Please see your local personal physician or community hospital for specific health needs.

© Billings Clinic



Billings Clinic Healthline has additional information and resources available on a variety of topics to help you stay healthy and find answers to your health related questions . Call Billings Clinic Healthline 24 hours a day.


255-8400 or 1-800-252-1246


Billings Clinic

PO Box 37000

Billings, Montana 59107-7000


Web Address :

E-Mail: health@

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