Seasonal Affective Disorder

by James Brown

Updated November 9, 2023


You know that sinking feeling? When winter approaches, days become shorter, and there's that unmistakable chill in the air? For many of us, it's a time to wrap up warm, indulge in hot drinks, and cozy up by the fire. Yet, for some, winter brings more than just cold fingers and toes. It drags along a shadow of gloom that's hard to shake off.

This isn't about disliking winter or missing the sun. It is a mood shift that impacts a lot in life - from how we feel when we wake up, to our energy levels throughout the day.
But what exactly is SAD? Is it simply a case of winter blues or something more serious? Let’s uncover this winter mystery and shed light on a condition that many face, often in silence.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

SAD is a form of depression linked directly to seasonal change. Unlike common perceptions, it's not just a fleeting feeling of discontent with the cold or dark days. This disorder has its roots in the brain's response to reduced exposure to daylight, affecting mood-regulating neurotransmitters. As the seasons shift, particularly entering the colder months, individuals with SAD experience symptoms akin to clinical depression. The brain struggles to adapt to the changing light patterns and this in turn leads to significant emotional disturbances.

Types of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD manifests differently depending on individual and environmental factors. While the overarching theme is depression related to seasonal changes, the types of SAD offer insight into its nuances:

1.Winter-Onset SAD: Predominantly observed, this type emerges as the days shorten in fall and can persist throughout winter. Individuals often feel lethargic, crave carbohydrates, and may oversleep. The absence of adequate sunlight disrupts the body's internal clock and can lead to depressive episodes. Fortunately, with the advent of spring and longer daylight hours, symptoms usually recede.

2.Summer-Onset SAD: A rarer manifestation that begins in late spring or early summer. The exact causes remain under study, but longer days, increased temperatures, and humidity changes might play roles. Symptoms can include insomnia, weight loss, and agitation.

3.Subsyndromal SAD: Often referred to as the "winter blues," this is a diluted version of winter SAD. While it's milder, it can still cause disruptions. People might feel a bit down, eat more, and sleep a bit longer, but it doesn’t drastically hinder daily functioning like the more severe types.

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

The exact cause of SAD remains a topic of research, but several factors appear to play significant roles in its onset:

●Biological Internal Clock (Circadian Rhythms): Reduced sunlight in fall and winter can disrupt the body's internal clock, or circadian rhythms. The body relies on sunlight to time various functions, such as when to wake up or fall asleep. Disruptions in this rhythm can have ripple effects on mood.

●Serotonin Levels: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Diminished sunlight can lead to a drop in serotonin, potentially triggering depression.

●Melatonin Levels: Melatonin plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. The change in season can alter the balance of this hormone, influencing SAD symptoms. As days shorten or lengthen, our melatonin production is affected, impacting our sleep and mood.

●Vulnerability Factors: Factors like genetics or the presence of other forms of depression can make individuals more susceptible to developing SAD.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Here's what to look out for with SAD:


●Mood Changes: Feeling depressed, hopeless, or worthless.
●Energy Shifts: Feeling lethargic, tired, or having trouble getting out of bed.
●Sleep Changes: Either oversleeping or facing insomnia.
●Appetite Changes: Craving for carbs, leading to weight gain.
●Difficulty Concentrating: Tasks that were once easy seem daunting.
●Avoiding Social Situations: Not wanting to see friends or participate in activities you usually enjoy.
●Thoughts of Death or Suicide: If this happens, it's crucial to seek help immediately.


To diagnose SAD, doctors will typically:

●Ask About Your Health History: This includes your mood patterns, changes in behaviors, and when they occur.
●Physical Exam: To rule out other potential causes.
●Blood Tests: To check thyroid and other potential issues.
●Psychological Evaluation: A detailed questionnaire or discussion about your feelings, behavior patterns, and potential suicidal thoughts.

How to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

More Light Exposure:
Utilizing natural daylight can be beneficial for mood enhancement. Additionally, introducing daylight bulbs indoors can mimic the positive effects of natural sunlight.

Light Therapy:
A specialized light box, designed to emit bright light, can be instrumental in combating SAD symptoms. It's always prudent to seek a doctor's advice before embarking on this therapy.

Talk Therapy:
Engaging in therapeutic conversations can unravel feelings and provide essential emotional clarity. This method serves as a beacon through the tumultuous waves of seasonal lows.

Prescribed antidepressants play a role in recalibrating brain chemistry, potentially restoring emotional equilibrium.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) isn't just a case of feeling a bit down in winter or a tad off in summer. It's a real health concern that touches the lives of countless folks globally. Getting familiar with its signs, figuring out why it happens, and looking for ways to address it can change things for the better. Nobody should feel they have to tough it out alone. There's support available, and recognizing what's going on is the starting point.


Westrin, Å., & Lam, R. W. (2007). Seasonal affective disorder: a clinical update. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 19(4), 239-246.

Kurlansik, S. L., & Ibay, A. D. (2012). Seasonal affective disorder. American family physician, 86(11), 1037-1041.

Terman, M., Terman, J. S., Quitkin, F. M., McGrath, P. J., Stewart, J. W., & Rafferty, B. (1989). Light therapy for seasonal affective disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology, 2(1), 1-22.

NHS. (n.d.). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Retrieved from

American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.). Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved from

Mind HK. About seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved from 
Article by
James Brown
Hello,I'm James, an editor at BeWellFinder, where I'm dedicated to sharing my expertise to provide you with valuable insights.

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