At Home Tricks to Beating S.A.D

Written by Dr. Katherine Lik, ND

(November  2011)


SAD and the HolidaysSeasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects up to 18 million Americans. People who live far from the equator are more likely to be at risk for SAD, and those who already suffer from depression or bipolar disorder are also more likely to suffer from this disorder. Winter is a high-risk season as the months between November and April are the most common times for individuals in the Midwest to suffer from symptoms of SAD. Seasonal affective disorder can lead to fatigue, anxiety, increased desire to sleep, cravings for carbohydrates and sugar, weight gain, and low libido.


Seasonal affective disorder occurs during the gray winter months because the lack of sunshine causes our brains to produce more melatonin. Our bodies make melatonin when it is dark outside, and it is a crucial hormone that helps regulate sleep. Yet when dark winter months hit and sunshine is sparse, our bodies produce a higher level of melatonin, causing us to feel fatigued and out of sorts. And, as melatonin levels go up, serotonin levels go down. Serotonin is a brain chemical that plays a role in our mood, so when it decreases, people are at risk for depression.


Thankfully, there are many things people can do to help limit their risk of SAD and to help treat the side effects. First, you should consider light therapy, a treatment which has been shown to be quite effective in treating seasonal affective disorder. In fact, a recent study found that 75% of people felt positive results after undergoing 30 minutes of light therapy at 10,000 lux each morning.


If you don’t want to use a light box, you can make your environment sunnier and brighter, such as by opening your blinds during the day and taking a walk during your lunch break when the sun is at its peak. Exercise is also a good way to naturally decrease depression risk, so stay active during the winter by hitting the gym regularly or engaging in winter activities like ice-skating or snowshoeing. Family history and genetics also appear to play a role in SAD, so if you have a history of suffering from SAD or depression, you might consider having your serotonin levels tested. 

Another good treatment option is melatonin supplements. These are available over the counter at almost every drugstore. Take 2 mgs before bed to help regulate the production of melatonin. Vitamin D supplements are also a good idea, as many people suffer from low levels of Vitamin D during the winter. You can also eat foods which are high in Vitamin D such as cold water fish-salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, tuna, and mushrooms.


Although seasonal affective disorder is a serious issue, it can be treated effectively through a combination of supplements and lifestyle changes. If you believe you are suffering from SAD or depression, speak to your doctor right away. There is help available and you are not alone.

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