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Preparing for Less Daylight and Seasonal Depression (SAD)

My staff and I brace ourselves for the autumn day when clocks are set back an hour and the already dwindling sun-filled days diminish to darkness at 5 p.m.

Add the overcast skies of winter and the “I’m NOT going outside” bitter cold, and we all may wonder why we’re not living in Santa Barbara.

If you’re affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), start soon to prepare yourself. Think back to last winter: if your depression, anxiety, or carb cravings worsened, you likely have SAD or the wintertime blues. Likewise if your fibro and fatigue flared up, you had more migraines, worse PMS, or simply felt more vulnerable to stress, then you’re definitely susceptible to this lack of sunshine.

And remember, not only does your stress-buffering serotonin plummet with this lack of sunshine, but your vitamin D–made by the effect of sunshine on your skin–falls, too.

Here are some steps you can take to increase the light in your life:

  • Keep your curtains open so whatever light there is can get into your living/work area.
  • If you go to a health club, work out during the day close to a window.
  • Leave your office at lunch every day and take a brisk walk outside.
  • Try to avoid going from one indoor space to another (house>car>mall>car>home>subway>office>subway>apartment). At each “>” get outside for a while.
  • Take at least 1,000 I.U. of vitamin D daily.
  • Replace all the bulbs in your living area with full-spectrum bulbs.
  • If you’ve had problems in the past, get yourself a full-spectrum light box. Place it in your work area and leave it on all day. Your brain will think you’re working in Acapulco and make feel-good serotonin accordingly.

Light boxes are available online. We’ve tried several in our office and have been most pleased with this one, which is priced significantly lower than other models while providing a generous amount of illumination.

And if you’re in the Chicago area, consider joining Yoga Therapist Renee Zambo for her three-part workshop series, Wellbeing for Seasonal Change. Mindfulness and meditative practices for transitioning to winter will be discussed and gentle yoga movements will help participants make a comfortable passage to quieter days.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

Leave a Comment


  1. Christel Goetsch says:

    Thanks for the suggestions on ways to be proactive in fighting the coming darker days…

  2. Deborah says:

    My spouse and I are having a debate over when one should start using the light box. A few weeks before the time change, I think?

    • Dr. R says:

      Deborah. Basically begin using your light box at the first signs of SAD symptoms. Diminished hours of sunshine occur prior to the time change so pay attention to the subtle changes in how you feel, and it may very well be different for your husband.

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