Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder

seasonal affective disorder
Light therapy is one treatment that can dramatically reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Image © Igor Balasanov/iStockPhoto

As the days grow shorter and darker in fall and winter, many people begin to experience symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD. This mood disorder is linked to seasonal changes in light and is marked by periods of depression, fatigue, and social avoidance. These symptoms typically begin during the late fall, as the daylight hours shorten, and continue through winters marked by gray skies, less sunlight and cold weather that keeps people indoors.

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Seasonal depression
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Withdrawal from social situations and normal daily activity
  • Changes in eating habits, including food cravings and weight gain

Fortunately, people experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder do not need to move to the sunny tropics to find relief. Nor do they need to simply tough it out and wait for the sunnier days of spring and summer. Thanks to a relatively simple therapy technique, SAD sufferers can brighten both their moods and their environments.

Research on Treatments

In one important study on treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder, researchers exposed participants to bright lights that were 10 to 20 times brighter than normal indoor electrical lights. One group was exposed to these lights for approximately one and a half hours in the morning, while a second group was exposed to the lights for the same amount of time in the evening. A third group received a placebo treatment. The results revealed that participants who were exposed to the morning bright light treatments experienced full or near-full relief from depression.


If you experience symptoms of seasonal depression, there are a number of different ways to cope. For mild depression, consider getting more sun exposure during the day. Take a midday walk to get as much sun as possible to help relieve symptoms. For more severe bouts of depression, consult your doctor for treatment advice. Light therapy, antidepressants, and psychotherapy are all possible options, but it is important to discuss your concerns with a mental health care professional to ensure that your chosen treatment is the best choice for your specific needs.

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Article Sources

  • Eastman, Ch. I.; Young, M. A., Fogg, L. F., Liu, L., & Meaden, P. M. (1998). Bright light treatment of winter depression: A placebo-controlled trial. Archives of General Psychiatry, 55, 883-889.
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