Seasonal Affective Disorder: It’s More Than Just “Feeling Blue”
Less daytime can mean gloomier moods—which, for some, can indicate signs of a serious condition. How can you make the most of winter months?
December 2, 2023
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a fitting acronym for the condition, involves symptoms such as depressive moods, low energy, increased need for sleep, and irritability. Many factors contribute to developing SAD, including a person’s genetic predisposition, geographic location, and age.
Fortunately, treatments are available. With the right help, most people with seasonal affective disorder can control their symptoms and make the most of the winter season.
Keep Reading To Learn
- How to recognize the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder
- Who’s at risk for developing this disorder
- How to manage symptoms and seek help
How Less Sunlight Can Impact Your Mental Health
Multiple studies show that when people are exposed to less sunlight, they can develop certain mental health issues. It makes sense, as you may experience changes in mood when the days get shorter.
Daylight Savings Time and Sleep
After daylight savings time ends in the fall, the amount of visible sunlight can drop quickly. This affects your circadian rhythm, or internal 24-hour biological clock. If you have SAD, your circadian rhythm is especially sensitive to changes in daylight.
The circadian rhythm influences sleep cycles and hormone release. Sleep is closely tied to mental health. In one study, researchers found that because of sleep disruptions, patients with depressive disorders noticed a change in mood on the day of, or following, the daylight savings time change.
Chemical Imbalances as Seasons Change
When you’re exposed to sunlight, light passes through your eyes and strikes your retina. This creates a signal that travels to your brain, causing it to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood. Deprived of sunlight, you may receive less of this vital chemical messenger.
Research shows that less exposure to sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, emotional processing, pain processing, sleep, and other important functions. If you struggle with SAD, you may experience symptoms of depression as your serotonin levels decrease.
On the other hand, lack of sunlight increases production of another important chemical: melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that causes drowsiness. Because melatonin responds to darkness, its production ramps up as daylight decreases. If you have SAD, you may produce too much melatonin. As a result, you can feel tired and irritable.
If you can increase your exposure to sunlight, you may be able to reduce your symptoms of depression. It’s important to discuss your symptoms with your health care provider so they can suggest lifestyle changes and potential treatment options.