Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that generally occurs because of changes in season. It usually affects people during the fall and winter months and dissipates during the spring and summer. However, SAD can also be experienced during the summer, but this is less common.

What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

While it is not fully understood why seasonal affective disorder occurs, several theories are prominent.

  • Circadian Rhythms- our circadian rhythms or biological clock regulates the times we wake and sleep each day. Exposure to sunlight plays an important role in sustaining our emotional balance. In the winter, daylight is shorter which can impact these rhythms, therefore causing a dysregulation that can result in SAD symptoms.
  • Serotonin- it is possible that seasonal change can drop serotonin levels in individuals, causing symptoms of SAD.
  • Melatonin- seasonal changes can cause the hormone melatonin to be produced differently. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates our sleep cycles, telling us when to sleep each night.

Symptoms of SAD

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Craving carbohydrates
  • A decrease in energy level
  • Fatigue
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed

If someone experiences SAD during the summer months, they may experience different symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation

Treatment Options

Treatment options for depression generally would also benefit someone living with seasonal affective disorder. These options would include talk therapy, medication, and wellness strategies. Light therapy is a treatment unique to SAD.

Light Therapy

Light therapy involves exposing yourself to bright light, either through a specially designed lightbox or a light visor for at least 30 minutes per day. Typical lightbulbs are not enough for this type of therapy. The rationale behind using light is to make up for the lack of light during winter months. People who use light therapy typically begin in the early fall and continue the treatment until spring. For the most effective treatment with light therapy, it should be done consistently. Exposure to light should last about 20 to 30 minutes. It is more effective when done early in the morning, using the light too close to bedtime could impact your ability to fall asleep. Light therapy is most effective when it is paired with other treatment strategies such as wellness practices and talk therapy.

Warnings and Limitations of Light Therapy

If you are a person who lives with bipolar know that Light Therapy can induce mania in some people. All people considering light therapy should consult with a mental health professional or doctor before using this treatment.