Healthy Living

How to Fight the “Winter Blues” and SAD this Season

Oct. 30, 2023

With shorter days and chilling temperatures, winter can bring on a gloomy feeling—the “winter blues.”

An American Psychiatric Association poll found that roughly a quarter of Americans feel generally depressed in winter. For up to 9% of the population, the change in seasons triggers Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a more severe type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. SAD can negatively affect one’s thoughts, behaviors, and ability to function.

And the effects of daylight savings time can add to the problem. UR Medicine psychiatrist Annabel Fu, MD, and psychologist Leisha Cuddihy, PhD, share these recommendations for finding light in the darkness this winter:

Seek natural light. This could be bundling up and going outdoors, rearranging spaces so you can sit near windows at home and at work, or taking a vacation in a warm, sunny climate.

Wake up with artificial light. Sunlight tells our brain that it’s time to be awake, but we can use artificial light in the same way. Try putting your bedroom light on a timer so it turns on at least 30 minutes before you wake up. Or use a sunrise alarm clock or app that has a gradual light option to simulate the rising sun.

Try a light box. The general recommendation is to use a light box that can provide 10,000 lux for 30 minutes every morning to mimic sunlight. Talk to your health-care provider before you decide to use one, especially if you have eye diseases, sensitivities to light, or bipolar disorder.

Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. People who keep a regular schedule report being more alert and less tired.

Adjust your sleep schedule before the clocks change. Stay up 15 to 30 minutes later than your normal bedtime each day until you’re aligned with the new schedule. Daylight savings time can disrupt your internal biological clock, so it’s important to adjust your sleep and wake schedule to keep the routine.

Ask for help. If your symptoms are severe, don’t try to solve this on your own. See a doctor or mental health professional, especially if you have any thoughts of suicide. For some, antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective in combating SAD.

If you have suicidal thoughts, it is a medical emergency. Get help right away. In the Rochester area, call or text 988 for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, call (585) 275-8686 for our UR Medicine Crisis Call Line, or go straight to an emergency room.