Seasonal Affective Disorder

Tue. October 30, 2007 12:00 AM
by John D. Moore

How the change in daylight may affect you

In this article:
• Learn the key features of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
• Assess the possible causes of SAD
• Explore various treatments for SAD

Shorter days, wind that bites – cloudy skies with long cold nights. These are of course the hallmarks of changing seasons and to be sure, the end of Daylight Savings Time [DST]. For 2007, the change to shorter days will occur the first Sunday in November (later than historically usual). Given these transitions in weather and sunlight, I thought it might be useful to discuss a topic related to emotional wellness that many people ask about during this time of year. So if you have ever noticed a downturn in your mood almost immediately after the time change, this article is especially for you.

Specifically, I am talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder, more commonly known as SAD. Some folks also refer to this phenomenon as winter depression. Before continuing further, it might be helpful to know what the specific features of SAD are. These include:

• Loss of energy
• Anxiety
• Depression
• Social withdraw
• Oversleeping
• Loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable
• Weight gain
• Craving foods with higher carbohydrates
• Difficulty with focus and concentration


SAD is thought to be related to seasonal variations in light, affecting a "biological internal clock" in the brain that regulates our circadian (daily) rhythms. This biological clock responds to changes in season, partly because of the differences in the length of the day. For many thousands of years, the cycle of human life revolved around the daily cycle of light and dark. We were alert when the sun shone; we slept when our world was in darkness.(*) At higher latitudes (such as upper mid-west region) there are more cases of seasonal affective disorder than in other parts of the nation. Women tend to be impacted by SAD more than men and incidences of this mood disorder appear to occur more in younger adults than in older folks.


There are a variety of effective treatments for SAD. Many people use exercise as a way of working through winter depression, particularly by building in a physical fitness routine into their daily life before the onset of SAD symptoms. Other folks try to take a walk during the middle part of the day to capture rays of sun (this of course is not always possible during Chicago's brutal winter). Others find taking a vacation to a sunny location to be helpful as a way of "breaking up" the winter. And of course, more serious cases of SAD may require anti-depressants, coupled with psychotherapy.

Over the last 20-years , there has been great movement in treatment of SAD using artificial light provided through a "sun box". Commonly referred to as Bright Light Therapy, sun boxes are used to simulate the sun's natural light, thereby influencing our brain's chemistry in a way that promotes happier feelings and thusly, more energy. To learn more about SAD as well as available treatments, visit the Mayo Clinic's informational page. It should be noted that symptoms of SAD can mimic other health conditions. Be sure to check with your physician to rule out any possible medical conditions. If your depression becomes severe or if you are concerned you might harm yourself, seek out professional help immediately.


If you have noticed that your mood begins to dip during the late fall and winter and tends to rebound after the time change in the spring, you may be experiencing a SAD. If you have a moment, why not take an online test to see how the changes in weather and sunlight may affect you? Keep in mind that the results are not conclusive and again – check with your doctor to rule out any medical causes. I will be speaking more about the topic of SAD on December 5th at Sir Spa, 5151 N. Clark, in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood. To register for this free workshop, send an email to:

I hope you have enjoyed this month's installment of Living Well on Have a great November and for those of you who will be celebrating the Thanksgiving Holiday either here in Chicago or some other destination – here's to warm autumn wishes to you and yours.



(*) Source: Canadian Mental Health Association: