The SAD Effects of Shorter Days

Premier Health Now

As days get shorter, sunlight dwindles and skies turn grey, does your mood seem to take a downcast turn, too? If so, you could have a condition called seasonal affective disorder – known by its apt acronym, SAD.

To learn more about SAD, its symptoms and how to treat it, Premier Health Now recently spoke with Aaron Block, MD, of Franklin Family Practice. 

Sunlight, Dr. Block explains, affects how chemicals work in the brain and regulate mood and sleep. “As the days get shorter, our brain realizes this, and we oftentimes have the winter doldrums, the ‘I don’t have energy,’ ‘I want to stuff my face with food,’ these kind of symptoms,” he says.

SAD, a variant of depression, affects about 5 percent of Americans, he says. But while typical depression can occur any time, SAD arises with the arrival of fall and winter – and typically goes away as spring and summer return. 

Women and those with a history of depression or anxiety are at higher risk of SAD, as are people who live in northern states like Ohio.

Symptoms may include:

  • A general lack of interest in life
  • Tendency to sleep longer
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Withdrawal from relationships
  • Decreased productivity

“One of the primary ways to treat SAD is light therapy, with a special sun lamp, rated at a certain brightness,” Dr. Block explains. SAD treatment lights do not emit UV rays, “so you can sit in front of them as long as you need to.” The recommendation is at least 30 minutes a day. 

When it works, light therapy generally takes effect in a week or two. If it doesn’t, Dr. Block says, see your primary care physician to discuss other options, which include medication or talk therapy.

Other ways to manage symptoms include exposure to natural sunlight outdoors or sitting by a window, exercise and eating a healthy diet.