In late fall and winter, the short days put us at greater risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition where people have mood issues during a particular season. This most commonly means suffering depression during winter. More rarely, people may experience mania, or a mix of mania and depression.
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:
- Sleeping too much or being unable to sleep
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Increased appetite, especially cravings for carbohydrates
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
It is not known what causes SAD. It may be a problem with the body’s natural impulse to sleep not lining up with nighttime. This may result in the body releasing sleep hormones, such as melatonin, during the day. One theory is that some people respond to the longer periods of darkness by producing extra melatonin, similar to animals that hibernate. SAD may also be related to neurotransmitters, like serotonin, that are affected by the change in the length of the day.
People at greater risk of SAD
- People living at northern latitudes
- Female gender
- Younger adults, especially between 20-30 years of age
- People with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- People with alcohol use disorder or seasonal alcohol use
- People with generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder
- People with bulimia
- People with chronic fatigue syndrome
It is important to talk to your doctor if you think you are having signs of SAD or any mood disorder. Treatments include light therapy, antidepressants, and psychotherapy.
Get outside! Try to take a walk, bike, or hike. Sunlight and exercise can help prevent SAD. Practice good sleep hygiene. Make sure your home is well-lit.
Talk to your medical provider or visit for more information:
- National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml
- Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651
Adrienne Jarvis, MD, is a family medicine resident with the University of Vermont Medical Center, Family Medicine, Milton.