Seasonal Affective Disorder

The cool, crisp days of autumn may feel energizing and exciting for some. Pumpkin spice, Halloween hijinks, and the prospect of the coming holidays make some people happy. “It’s my favorite time of year!” some say, reveling in colorful leaves and sweater weather. This is not the fall experience of those who have Seasonal Affective Disorder.

An estimated 5% of Americans have been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and many more may experience it without an official diagnosis. Shorter days and less sunlight mean depression and fatigue for people with SAD. Some crave carbs, some can’t sleep, and some lose interest in things they used to enjoy.

If you have trouble getting to sleep or waking up, feel tired at work, or suffer from depression as the seasons change, keep reading for some possible solutions.

Bright light therapy

For many SAD sufferers, beginning the day with 30 minutes under a light box will bring relief faster than medication. 

A light box will need to provide 10,000 lux (a measurement of brightness) and to shine downwards, as much like the sun as possible. Spend half an hour under it every morning for several weeks. 

Sunlight alarms, devices that increase the amount of light in your bedroom gradually around the time to wake up, have also performed well in studies. And getting outdoors for at least half an hour a day has also been shown to be beneficial.

Check with your doctor before using bright light therapy if you have any concerns about your eyes.


While light therapy has a good track record with Seasonal Affective Disorder, medication is helpful for some people.

One of the factors leading to SAD is a drop in serotonin and melatonin, hormones which occur naturally in the body. Both respond to light and to your natural physical rhythms. These physical changes can sometimes be adjusted with medication. 

Bupropion XL is currently the only medication that is FDA-approved specifically for Seasonal Affective Disorder, but your physician can advise you on the best option for you.

Lifestyle changes

Good sleep habits, nutritious eating on a regular schedule, and physical activity can all make a difference for people who experience SAD. 

Talk with your primary care physician if you think you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder.