Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

My first official post of the New Year!  Like many of you who spend the holiday season busily cooking, cleaning, visiting, celebrating, overeating, over-imbibing and all the rest, early January can be quite a contrasting time.  It is often a return to normal routines and while the memories of the season still linger and the evidence of the celebration is witnessed by our  belts being forced to the point of failure, there is often a feeling of sadness.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the period of coming down from the holidays comparatively feels a bit sad.  Family has gone home, the tree and the decorations come down and  for those of us living north of the 42nd parallel, the days are noticeably short.  It is estimated that approximately 6% of the population of North America suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Affective disorders are mental disorders that are characterized by significant changes in mood.  For 6% of the population of North America SAD is triggered by a decrease in exposure to sunlight.

Symptoms of SAD may be:

  • increased sleep
  • increased craving for carbohydrates
  • increased appetite
  • weight gain
  • increased interpersonal conflict
  • irritability
  • heaviness of the limbs

When I read that list, it sounds a lot like how a bear might feel before hibernation or if a bear was woken out of hibernation!


I do believe for some of us that our genetics call us to “hibernate” more in the winter compared with others.  If your ancestors are of northern European descent, you might be more susceptible to SAD.  SAD generally affects women more than men but in people with mood disorders, they are much more likely to suffer from SAD.

The important part to realize about SAD is that:

  1. it might be a normal part of your annual cycle telling you to rest more in the winter
  2. it is likely related to your genetics
  3. there is effective treatment!

Since one of the contributing factors to SAD appears to be lack of sunlight, getting your face exposed to some daily light – especially blue light, is clinically proven to help.  Desktop blue light machines are very affordable and easy to use.

Sunlight is vital to humans.  We need it not only for warmth but our bodies produce most of our vitamin D and melatonin (an important hormone) through exposure to sunlight. If we don’t produce melatonin in the day, our brain’s (pituitary gland) can’t release it at night.

Melatonin is an extremely important hormone as it helps regulate our immune function and it helps us attain a normal sleep cycle.  Melatonin is an important free radical (as is vitamin D) scavenger and has shown to be important in the possible prevention of some cancers (Shiu, S. Y. W. (2007). “Towards rational and evidence-based use of melatonin in prostate cancer prevention and treatment.” Journal of Pineal Research 43(1): 1-9; Cos, S. and E. J. Sánchez-Barceló (2000). “Melatonin, experimental basis for a possible application in breast cancer prevention and treatment.” Histology and histopathology 15(2): 637-647).

If you suffer from SAD, you may want to consider:

  1. honouring your natural rhythms and need for sleep as much as possible
  2. consider using a blue light for an hour or so a day
  3. try melatonin supplement  at night before bed

Good health and best wishes this New Year.



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