Seasonal Affective Disorder: A Bad Case of The Winter Blues

Some people feel slightly blue or lethargic during the winter months—a condition often referred to as the winter blues. But during the winter (and sometimes fall) months, up to 10 percent of people in the United States:

  • feel consistently down,
  • experience low energy or apathy,
  • sleep more than usual,
  • have increased food cravings (especially for carbohydrates) and gain weight, and
  • suffer reduced concentration to the point where it affects their ability to function.

These people have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). ***Less often, seasonal affective disorder causes depression symptoms in the spring or summer.

Light therapy—in which you sit under a special light device that emits 10,000 lux for 30 minutes per day—can significantly improve symptoms for up to 70 percent of those with SAD, according to Raymond Lam, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

Taking antidepressants—such as SSRIs—throughout the troublesome season can also help. In a study involving 96 people with SAD, researchers at four Canadian health centers found that light treatments and antidepressants were equally effective at reducing symptoms, though the light therapy produced an earlier response; those who used light therapy began to feel better after just 1 week.

Some SAD-sufferers also find it helpful to increase the amount of light in their homes and offices and to exercise outdoors regularly—by taking a brisk walk at noon, for example—during the winter.

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 14 Dec 2010

Last Modified: 17 Jul 2014