Healthy Food & Life: How to Relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Disclosure: Some links may be affiliate links. I may get paid a commission if you buy something or take an action after clicking one of these links. Please read the Disclosure for more information. 

How to Relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

tree in gray days of winter cause seasonal affective disorder

During the winter, it can always seem gray, and when the sun does shine, it is very low to the horizon, making the house dark. Do you dread it when you hear that daylight savings time is ending, and you feel depressed, anxious and tired? This is known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD. Many people feel this way during the long winters and there are ways to beat the winter blues

The Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder is considered a form of depression and it shouldn’t be ignored. The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are feeling depressed, moody, tired, anxiety, no energy, difficulty in concentrating, weight gain and craving high carbohydrate foods. The craving for high carbohydrate foods and depressed feelings can cause some to drink alcohol to relieve these symptoms. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can cause seasonal affective disorder symptoms to worsen. Have a soothing hot baked potato, increase the amount of carbs or even have a piece of dark chocolate.

Scientists and doctors are unsure of the exact reasons people get seasonal affective disorder during the winter, but there are several theories. The lack of sunlight is believed to be the main cause of SAD. During the winter, not only are there more cloudy days, but also the sun rises later and sets earlier. The lack of sunlight can have a large effect on our circadian rhythms and the amount of vitamin D we get every day.

One theory is that less sunlight during the winter causes the body to produce more melatonin. Excess melatonin is thought to be one cause of SAD. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain by the pineal gland. It is thought melatonin is involved in the circadian rhythms of our body. Light is what causes the body to suppress making melatonin, and darkness is what causes the body to start making more melatonin. When the days are short and nights are longer, it is believed that excess melatonin production is one reason some people get SAD.

Another theory has to do with the serotonin, also a hormone that is produced in the brain. Serotonin affects our moods, appetite, sleep, memory and learning ability. The reduction in sunlight can reduce the amount of serotonin that the body produces causing SAD.

Bright Light Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Studies with bright light therapy have shown to be effective in the treatment of SAD-related depression [1]. You can buy bright light therapy boxes. These seasonal affective disorder lights are measured by lux, not lumens as with ordinary lighting. Lux is not the same as lumens. The light in most homes is between 100 and 300 lux. Normal office lighting is about 700 lux. For light therapy to be effective, the light has to be a minimum of 2,500 lux. Most bright light therapy boxes are 10,000 lux, which is the equivalent of spring sunshine. Light therapy has shown promising results and can be as effective as an antidepressant for mild to moderate depression and seasonal affective disorder. Light therapy will help quicker than antidepressants [2].

People with seasonal affective disorder will sit in front of a seasonal affective disorder light and do normal tasks like reading, work or eat. It is thought that the light will reduce the body’s making excess melatonin. If you try light therapy, it takes about a week to get used to the light. There are different colors of light and there are still safety concerns with the blue light therapy boxes. Blue light could cause macular degeneration, so for now, stick with the white light therapy boxes until more research is done with blue light.

Natural Remedies for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Recent studies have shown that increasing vitamin D3 during the winter can relieve symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. It is thought that since we get most of our vitamin D3 from the sun during the summer, which lowered levels of vitamin D3 can contribute or even cause SAD. A good multivitamin will give you proper nutrients during the winter and also a good amount of vitamin D3. Most multivitamins have about 700 IU of vitamin D3. Doctors are now recommending as much as 2,000 IU and even more per day. Adding a 1,000 IU vitamin D3 supplement daily could help you with seasonal affective disorder.

Studies have shown that foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can relieve symptoms. These foods include fish oil, salmon, mackerel, herring, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, and walnuts.

SAM-e is a chemical that occurs in the body that can also relieve depression. In the US, the FDA has not approved its use for depression. In Europe, it is widely used to treat depression. SAM-e can react with certain medications, especially antidepressants so check with your doctor.

St. John’s wort has been used to treat mild depression; it also causes light sensitivity in some people, which could affect how light therapy works. It can react with certain antidepressants. Talk to your doctor.

There is an increasing amount of evidence that our gut bacteria can have an effect and the brain, including depression. Eating a diet that will create good gut bacteria like a high carb low-fat diet can possibly decrease the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder

Dawn therapy slowly turns the lights on, starting before you wake up, with the lights getting brighter. Simulating a summer morning sunrise.

trees in winter fog

Simple Home Remedies for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Stay busy and active during the winter. Go outside every day and take a walk, whether the sun is shining or not. Exercise each day since exercise will relieve the stress and anxiety of seasonal affective disorder and lift your mood.

Do the things it takes to get a good night sleep like not drinking coffee after noon, only drink one glass of alcohol and don’t exercise close to bedtime. Keep your bedroom at a comfortably cool temperature; being too hot can cause a bad night sleep.

Make your home and office brighter. Put in brighter or more lights. Cut tree branches that block the winter sun and you could even put in a skylight, which can really brighten up a home.

Use the long winter nights to start a new hobby or continue an old one. Those quiet winter nights are great for all kinds of hobbies like painting, model building, stamp collecting, and jigsaw puzzles.

Set up a ping-pong table in the basement and challenge everyone in the house to a winter-long tournament.

Turn on more lights and make your home feel busy if that helps. Turn the radio on to a basketball or hockey game, the announcers will certainly liven the place up.


Depression should be taken seriously. If your depression is getting more severe or last for days, talk to your doctor. She might suggest an anti-depressant for your symptoms. At this time light therapy and extra vitamin D have shown promise in combating seasonal affective disorder.

About the Author

Sam Montana is a certified Food Over Medicine instructor from the Wellness Forum Health Center and certified in optimal nutrition from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Sam Montana © 09 January 2010-2018


[1] Evidence Based Mental Health - Light therapy is an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder. Evid Based Mental Health 2006;9:21 doi:10.1136/ebmh.9.1.21 
[2] Consumer Reports Health
How to Relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)


  1. Wow, This post came at right time when we are near to start with Day lights saving and it is going to be dark soon. Living in PNW where gray and cloudy days are regular, these tips will come handy. Good reminder for me to start taking my Vitamin D3 along with healthy foods. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I definitely suffer from SAD so thank you for the tips and product recommendations, I will look into them.

    1. Hi Dora. I hope these recommendations help you get relief from SAD. Sometimes it seems like winter can last so long.