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Posted on / Dr. Zoë McMillen

Avoid Getting SAD this Winter!

Do you find yourself feeling down during the fall and winter months? If so, it's possible that you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD usually describes episodes of depression, but less commonly can include mania or hypomania (which I won’t discuss here). SAD regularly occurs during certain seasons, especially Fall and Winter.

If left untreated, SAD will usually remit during the spring and summer, but while occurring the symptoms can include typical depression symptoms such as feeling sad, down, less energy/motivation, increased sleep, increased appetite, craving carbohydrates, and unsurprisingly weight gain.

If experiencing SAD, I don’t recommend just brushing it off as “the winter blues”, rather treat it to keep a steady mood and motivation throughout the year.

Risk factors for SAD may include:

  • Family history of SAD
  • Having major depression or bipolar disorder
  • Living far from the equator
  • Having a low level of vitamin D

Treatment Options for SAD

Treatment depends on the underlying disorder that is present and the seasonal pattern, but can include the following:

  • Medications
  • Bright light therapy and/or Dawn Simulation
  • Psychotherapy

Please discuss with your doctor if you think you have SAD and what treatment options would be best for you. You may need only one or a combination of the above.

Bright Light Therapy for SAD

There are minimal side effects for bright light therapy, and it is mostly very safe, but of course check with your physician first before starting this).

  • You can purchase 10,000 lux light boxes on Amazon or in stores, which use fluorescent bulbs emitting white light. 
  • It is best in the early morning rather than later in the day.
  • To use it, position it 16-31 inches away from you, and avoid directly staring into the light but keep your eyes open and make sure the light is at a minimum in the peripheral vision. 
  • You can read, eat, watch TV, or work on a computer while undergoing treatment. 
  • About 30 minutes a day should work, but some people may need 45-60 minutes. 

Dawn Simulation for SAD

  • This is exposure to a low level of light that gradually increases to room light level (approximately 250 lux) over a period of 30-90 minutes before your planned wake-up time. 
  • There are many devices that can produce this effect including a dawn simulator alarm, or even apps on your iPhone or Android.

In general, it is also important to focus on the following in addition to the above:

  • Sleep hygiene – keep a regular sleep-wake cycle, have dark conditions for sleeping, and minimize blue light from devices 2 hours before bed. 
  • Daily walks outside – even if it is cloudy
  • Aerobic exercise
  • Enhanced lighting at home or your office with lamps


If you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, please schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. If you are a LifeScape patient, you can call 480.860.5500 to book your appointment today.







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