Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Daylight Savings Time and SAD


Okay, folks, we’ve got two days until Armageddon for depressives: Daylight Savings Time. Time to pull out the HappyLites!

In case you think I’m making up all this stuff about less light leading to depression, especially in the winter months, I will quote a woman with much more medical knowledge and expertise than me: Karen Swartz, M.D., Director of Clinical Programs at the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center, and one of the physicians who evaluated me when I was severely depressed in March of 2006.


Here’s what she says in a special report as part of the Fall 2007 Johns Hopkins Depression and Anxiety Bulletin called “Getting Relief From Light Therapy”:

Some people experience episodes of depression only during the winter months, particularly January and February, when there is less sunlight–thus the name “winter depression,” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Typically, symptoms of depression peak in the winter and recede in the spring. 

As seasons change, so does the amount of daily sunlight, which in turn causes changes in the body’s internal biological clock, known as circadian rhythm. This rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that affects our eating and sleeping patterns, brain wave activity, hormone production, and other biological activities. In some people, less daily sunlight and changes in circadian rhythm can bring about depression.


One theory is that the relative lack of sunlight during these times may alter brain levels of certain mood-related chemicals, for example, increasing levels of the hormone melatonin.

People with SAD often eat and sleep excessively, crave sugary or starchy foods, and have a full remission in the spring and summer when more daily sunlight is available.


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  • Lisa J

    Therese … this comment isn’t about your blog entry, but I didn’t know how to email you directly.
    Have you seen this article?
    And here I was SO hoping you/your blog had gotten a $1.6 million dollar grant!
    You go, girl!
    Lisa J

  • Rhianon

    Agree completely. I am always afraid of the winter months. Not only is there less sunlight, it’s cold and I hurt worse in the cold. I exercise less (not good) and I will tend to hibernate in my apartment. It’s amazing I come through most winters alive. This is the major reason I moved to the southwest: warm (well, compared to other parts of the country) and lots of sunlight. There is also low humidity, one other factor that makes me feel blue.
    Now, I cope with this in a few ways. I have two cats. They help with companionship and not committing suicide. I know there are mothers out there who have committed suicide, and I have much compassion for them and their abandoned offspring. However, I love my cats and for the most part, they are not too demanding. Although, now that I have two and they are not quite adjusted to each other, it is a little more demanding. I am working on going back to college in the spring, just two courses to keep me busy. I read a lot, and I try to keep my home clean. A clean living space is healthy in so many ways.
    Also, keeping up a spiritual practice helps immensely. I pray morning and night, try like crazy to meditate for more than a minute and do yoga (this is a real multi-tasker: exercise and spiritual practice at the same time.)
    Since I have managed to get through most winters intact, I am less afraid of them. I never found light therapy to help much, but I know some people thrive on it. It is just a matter of finding what works for you.
    Namaste’ (Hindu: The Divine in me honors the Divine in you.)
    Rhianon aka Karen

  • Gena

    I call it the “slough of despond” (stole that from someplace) and start the countdown on November 1. It helps to have some benchmarks–along with a HappyLite–first time it is not dark at 4:30 p.m., first morning it is light when you wake up, that sort of thing. You just slog from one to the other. Figure it this way, it could be worse, you could live on the equator where the days and nights are the same length ALL YEAR. The ideal of course would be to be able to move on November 1 to Australia and stay there for 6 months and just avoid the whole dark when you wake up dark at 4 p.m. thing.
    Slog on, 51 days to the shortest day of the year and then we turn the corner.

  • daniel mccormack

    wow this will help some family members with sad thanks a lot
    thanks in davance mr.

  • daniel mccormack

    hi karen namaste’ to you also i’am new to this site and love yoga it works thank’s for your kind comments mr.

  • daniel mccormack

    kudo’s to ms.therese j. borchard
    thanks in advance mr.

  • lapatosu

    Tweny minutes of outdoor exercise, in the sun, in the morning, if at all possible, is one the items on my daily “To Do” list that I was given before being released from the hospital. And daylight balanced bulbs in all the rooms. It makes a positive difference.

  • bristlecone77

    I, myself am solar powered I think. My depression gets worse without sun. I heard there is a new kind of compact fluorescent out there that has the same light spectrum of the sun that is supposed to be good for depressives.

  • Larry Parker

    Since I have been so tired and wired from getting ready for my impending move (check the time stamp — not good, I know …), I’m thinking I will probably end up sleeping a good chunk of the day Sunday anyway.
    I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I’m guessing it might be the latter … :-(

  • Camilla LaPlante

    I am so glad I read this article. It may help explain my increasing depression. I have been unable to work since Sept. 2006 due to a physical disability. Since the leaves have started to change and fall my depression seems to be getting worst. I am going to leave the lights on more; it’s worth a try. Thank you!

  • Lisa

    Please do not blame Daylight Savings Time for SAD! Those of us who have to obey the corporate imperative to get up two hours dawn (including five and six year old children, not to mention teenagers!) experience Daylight Savings Time as DEPRIVING us of daylight hours. Yes, research indicates winter blues is real, but Daylight Savings Time has nothing to do with that (except exacerbation) where I live!
    DOWN with DST!

  • Lisa

    Addendum: I left out an important preposition in my last post: two hours BEFORE dawn

  • Julie Anne

    This is most ridiculous.
    This timing of the earth is more natural in HOURS to my body.
    Getting my extra hour back makes me energized, refreshed, and happy.
    Cuddling in the darkness with my family makes me joyous.
    Joy is spiritual.
    The darkness of the earth is part of the cycle. Take joy in the cycles of nature and you won’t be depressed.

  • Maria

    How does this affect people in Alaska who see sunlight only half of the year?

  • Lisa

    I agree completely. I love when Daylight Savings Time ENDS. I love early darkness in the afternoons and cuddling with my family in the dark.
    I’d love to hibernate in the winter. But I also must pay the bills, and for most of us that involves being governed by someone else’s time clock.
    SAD is a different matter from “taking joy.” If you haven’t experienced it or known someone who has, then you cannot understand it.

  • happyindarkandlight

    I have noticed people seem to come alive in the spring……in Indiana, anyway. I think people tend to stay inside in the winter, dut to the cold, moreso, than the dark. I have a friend who lived in Alaska in total darkness and loved it! I think it is all in how we look at things. I choose to be happy, dark or light! We only live once, I’ve been told?, and why let what time it is or the color of the sky affect our mood. We choose our own reality, don’t let someone else choose it for you. I choose to be happy,not sad! I never was one for statistics. I say make your own reality and choose happiness each day!!! As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he!

  • Karen Koontz

    Hi! I agree TOTALLY with “Happyindarkandlight”. I feel sometimes I have to PUSH myself to be in a good mood, fair enough ~~ but it IS our CHOICE! Cry later! Love, Karen.

  • Carolyn

    It’s nice that you all can “choose” to be happy during the dark of the year, but clearly none of you have SAD. Like clinical depression, one cannot choose not to be affected by it. It is the result of disorganized brain chemistry and cannot be thought or prayed away. Many of us who are severely affected by it do love the cycles of nature, and spend as much time out in it as we can. The fact is that our circadian rhythms change when the days grow shorter, and we must actively treat the resulting condition in myriad ways, or by January we will not even be able to get out of bed.

  • wendy

    I, for one know first hand about the effect of less sunlight on my body and mind.I become more lathargic, restless, and easily frustrated.I truly DO enjoy the cozy warmth of cuddling with family, readying for the holidays and living in the cycles of the seasons.HOWEVER….like many with this disorder…….I STILL have to get up and go to work.I cannot afford to “hibernate” and turn inside myself as my body and mind tells me I should.It’s dark when I leave in the morning, and dark when I return home at night.I am not outside for more than 10 minutes during the times when the sun “could” be shining ( I live in Western NY state.we have VERY cloudy,bleak, snowy winters) and to top it off, I have had to give up my true love, gardening.SAD for me is very real.I have gone as far as to take out yearly memberships to a tanning salon.That has worked BEAUTIFULLY for the last 5 years,seemingly countering the SAD effects..but then I finally realized that the potential damage I am doing to my skin, eyes and hair is not worth it.This will be the first year that I do not use the tanning bed as an alternative.I have decided to research using amino acids, natural supplements, eating better and trying to get outside as often as possible for some natural light(weather permitting).Hopefully this gets me through until Springtime, when the seasonal cycle changes and I am once again outside playing in the sun.

  • Karen Koontz

    Carolyn: What do you do to “actively” treat this condition? I am sorry you cannot pray it away, really. I do that all the time. Please explain. . . kk

  • Lynne

    For anyone who’s interested, check out the stats for suicide in those states that experience six months of darkness…pretty impressive if you’re a depressive. How I envy those of you that can still choose to be happy. I’d choose to be independently wealthy and “follow the sun” if I could but, there’s the rub, so to speak. I simply do as much as I can to distract myself and keep as busy as possible. Luckily for me I’m a bit of a workaholic. I’ll keep January in mind…

  • Christie

    I have a double whammy. I always had SAD, but the holidays and family “made” me stay up and alive.
    Now, my parents died, my siblings all have moved away. My kids all grew up and moved away. I am single and have health issues.
    I realize and am terrified of the winter/holiday months. This year I thought ahead…I purchased concert tickets and made plans for a night out in Nov and one in Dec. My next plan is to make more plans in Jan. and Feb. I put a HUGE Smiley face on those dates on my calender… Something to look forward to! Try it. It helps me.

  • Tracey

    Just my own little fussy note. I’m rarely one to hold a grudge but this grudge is about 15 years old! Bryant Gumbol (sp?) was on the Today SHow I think? Anyway there was a piece on SAD, and I felt really good to see it up there being validated. As it closed, he made a snide comment equivalent to “yeah, right, there go the loonies!”
    So something that was supposed to educate and help people was countered with a roll of the eyes. An ignorant gesture or comment like that speaks volumes to me about one’s character. Anytime he shows up in the media I just think, ‘what a total *ss.’
    So that’s my beef for the week.

  • Dee

    This describes me in the stay inside winter months!!
    I hibernate – even here in SC the temps get low. Low for us anyway!! I am totally an outside person with lot’s of sunshine and warmth.
    I thought it was JUST ME during this time of year. Glad to know others feel the same.
    There is a season for ALL things…and NOT a ‘jolly season’ for me!!

  • Larry Parker

    Bryant Gumbel made a lot of snide comments. That’s why he was always ill-suited to be a morning host. Ironically, Jane Pauley, who was born to host Today, has depression herself. (Her memoir, Skywriting, is a treasure.)
    And BTW … I am loathe to go after my fellow BB comboxers, but why on earth do so many people feel compelled to deny the existence of a legitimate disease that has been in the DSM for many years? Will they deny schizophrenia next? Bipolar disorder? Depression itself?

  • SuzanneWA

    I can’t say that I have SAD, but SOMETHING happens to me when the sun does it’s yearly thing and I get up in the dark and go to bed in the dark. Even knowing the Holiday Season is upon us, I don’t feel the joy I once did at this time. Call it “growing older,” but I think Christmas is only for the children. I have no family close, but this year, I’m visiting my biological Mother in TX (I live in VA) for her 82nd birthday in December, so there should be a modicum of holiday spirit there.
    Along with being bipolar, I have severe sacroiliitis, for which I take morphine and Percocet. The pain is so bad, I have run out of my monthly script for morphine half way through the month, and now have to double up on the Percocet. It gives me a “rush,” but I also have to deal with the “crash” that follows. It seems my physical symptoms ALWAYS get worse in the winter. I now have to wait two weeks to get my script for morphine. My boyfriend says I’m “abusing” my painkillers; I feel that is a negative way of describing it. He is a recovering alcoholic, and I don’t bring THAT up to his face. I guess it’s all in how you look at it; he’s afraid of taking an aspirin, for fear of addiction!!
    We’re spending Thanksgiving with his Mother (who lives next door to him, 150 miles away), so at least I have that to look forward to. I’m providing the victuals, and she is providing the kitchen! It should be fun…
    Sorry to rant on, but this has been a hard day for me, adjusting my painkillers. Tomorrow we vote in the mid-term elections, and I’m going to be one of the first in line. PLEASE don’t forget to let your voice be heard.

  • Shannon

    I am curious to see if anyone else experiences SAD during the summer months? The heat makes me so ill that I end up “hiding” in my room with the AC on high and the windows covered in blankets to escape the heat. The depression that comes with the physical ailments totally encompasses my summer months. Please share.

  • Loretta García

    Thanks for helping me to understand me. I began listening to people saying/ opining that I was stuck in the gear of having lost my daughter to a sudden illness in April, 1994.
    Yes, my daughter died, as did my mother 5 weeks after by daughter’s death; and, yes, I still grieve for them… long for their company, their touch, their voices, their hugs…; but NOW you’ve given me the opportunity to honor them through my unique memories of them in a way I believe is right for me.
    Thank you so very much!

  • Brooke

    I just feel bad during the winter months like nothing is worth doing…my husband and I have been together 20 years and hes noticed something and says you always get like this at this time of year! Now I’ll tell him maybe there is a real reason.

  • jallen

    I can relate to Suzanne’s situation almost sentence by sentence, having lived within the gray (silvery) mists and fog in the great northwet. The further transition from near perpetual gray to dark sapped any reserves of humor, optimism, and energy I had accumulated and hoarded during spring and summer.
    An unplanned relocation to Colorado was my salvation. Yes it gets cold and yes it can snow feet deep but THE SUN SHINES practically every day.
    Perhaps it is the reflection of the sun from the snow but I now welcome the winter seasons with energy and happiness.
    Relocating may be a drastic measure, but I know my health, both mental and physical, has greatly benefitted from the change.

  • Linda D.

    Wendy, if the tanning bed helped alleviate your SAD, I would strongly suggest you try a light box designed to treat SAD. I am not a sun worshipper but the first time I used my light, which would have been early in January a number of years ago, I just fell in love with the light. For me, it made a difference in my depression within a week. You have quite a program set up for yourself and perhaps are more self-disciplined than I am, but I find the greyness and lack of sun undermine the best of my intentions as the days get shorter and shorter.
    Shannon, yes I too experience SAD in summer. I dread the heat and humidity and with the exception of the never ending greyness of winter, I really look forward to autumn and winter.

  • Frank

    I’m intrigued by the light box and am going to look into it. But I want to share something I purchased a year ago and finally hooked up. It’s a ‘natural alarm’ clock. At approximately 1/2 an hour before I want to arise, the light on top of the alarm begins to glow – dimly at first and then brighter and brighter…like a sunrise of sorts. I started using it just three days ago and I’ve not had to endure the ‘alarm’ sound to jar me from my sleep. It’s really been great on this test drive – we’ll see how it works as time goes on – but I can tell you that having that bit of light in the morning seems to dispell the gloom of a daylight savings time early morning wake up call. Cool!

  • marilyn

    until i started doing more activities in the summer outside did i realize the effect the time change had on my body and now i see the differance.i try to go to the y.m.c.a as often as possible and limit my junk food intake.and as hard as it ison me because i am not very sociali try to get more involved in things in thewinter that take me out of the house.alwaaysopen my curtainsfirst thing in the morning.

  • m

    Using a light box really helps. Even my husband says I do much better during the Christmas holidays, than I did before. I think the web-site to purchase one is I use the SunLight Jr. It’s currently on sale for $200.00. I place it on the floor in front of my chair.
    Norman Rosenthal, M.D. wrote a great book that explains this disorder and offers good hints for surviving the dark months. It’s called Winter Blues.
    I think the worst day of the year is the day it’s totally dark by 5:45 p.m. arghhh

  • Bev Y

    My deep depression is weighing me down. I am just barely going day by day. Yes, I know that most of us do at times. This feels different. I don’t want to see tomorrow. I don’t need to see another day. Days just pile up and up and up.

  • Geri

    I’ve had depression problems before, and it’s tough going. Interestingly enough, I discovered aroma therapy can help depression. If you’re interested in learning more read

  • daniel mccormack

    where does daylight savings come into this?

  • darlene

    I have met someone special in Fairbanks Alaska and am thinking of relocating, I live presently in Indiana. I will be visiting Fairbanks fo 10 days next week, but don’t know what to expect. I am very worried about the difference in temp. and also darkness. I deal already with bouts of depression and joint pain…I care very much for this person, IS THERE HOPE???

  • Nancy

    I’m 63 yrs old and i have been suffering from some depression ever since I was a teenager. Maybe when I was young it was more moodiness. I am on Effexor which really helps and I have been doing pretty well with it but Oh oh here come the dark winter months. Yesterday while gathered with a few friends I said ” Oh I hate these dark months coming” and they said ” So do I”. So, I guess it is a pretty common thing. One said ” yeah, I go into work in the dark and come home in the dark” so it isn’t just depressives that it affects. I know I will do everything I can to try to enjoy those months and make the most of them. Whatever I have to do to create GOOD FEELINGS.

  • magge

    Just for the record, Daylight Savings Time ENDS in November and starts in the spring. We don’t have SAD because of Daylight Savings Time, it’s because of winter, and has a lot to do with the longitude where one lives. Our little manipulation of time is so that the sun isn’t rising at 3am during the summer, but it stays light longer in the evening when people can enjoy it. I’m endlessly surprised at how many people think Daylight Savings Time starts in the fall.

  • Smiley

    Taking Vitamin D supplements is a great way to boost your mood through the stimulation of serotonin (the “feel good” brain chemical).

  • Becky Blackwood

    Can someone suggest an AFFORDABLE light box?

  • Your Name

    I’m currently on Prozac and the deep depression could hit me anytime of the year but mostly starting after Thanksgiving. So now, instead of hanging around during Thanksgiving or Christmas time, I take a trip to the Trpoics in a foriegn country that I’ve never been before…the mood change is night to day!!

  • Your Name

    Nancy, I too am 63 and get depresses from time to time. I have tried Zoloft but it doesn’t work for me anymore. Effexor is a new one to me and I may give it a go. When I was 30 years younger I would go to Asia starting after Halloween. I dislike the coming holidays with a passion and Asia always helped me. But now arthritis and other malidies are in my way. I guess it’s Effexor to the rescue.

  • NamasteShaye

    Way to GO, KAREN!
    I am truly HAPPY for those who do not suffer from mood disorders! However, those who refuse to acknowledge their existence are the ones who are really in the DARK.
    COMPASSION is the cornerstone of Understanding our differences!
    Thank YOU, Karen, for helping ME bring this subject into the LIGHT!

  • marymargaret

    Exactly why I vote for hibernation..Wake me when it’s over!

  • lori

    u r very lucky and should be grateful u got arthitis as late as 33!! i was just 20!! i was in college. be grateful!!

  • Bill

    SAD lights do not work because they do not solve the problem of getting Vitamin D because they have no UVB light. A tanning bed works because it provides UVB light and causes your body to produce Vitamin D. This is proven by my experience. Just use the tanning bed carefully and in moderation. Many of our health problems are caused by lack of Vitamin D due to low exposure to sunlight (UVB).

  • shut-eye doll

    SAD is a fact of life. And, there is non-medicinal intervention such as the light you have described, available. It is a real condition, and needs sympathy or at least empathy, and not an admonishment to use will-power and shake yourself out of it.
    There is, however, a flip side to this coin, particularly in warmer climes and that is, at the other end of the spectrum. For many sufferers of Bipolar Disorder, the advent of summer marks the advent of Hypomania, which if left untreated can lead to mania, and eventually psychosis.
    This begins off in a lot of excitement but believe me if untreated can be disastrous!

  • Ellie Barker

    I see a lot of advertisements for the goLITE Blu lately which appears to be smaller than most regular light therapy boxes and has LEDs instead of fluorescent lights that appear to last forever. This video looks really cool and I really want one but the price is a bit steep for me. Which light should I get, or will a trip to the tanning salon suffice?


    Your means of describing the whole thing in this post is really fastidious, all can without difficulty be aware of it, Thanks a lot.

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    Hurrah, that’s what I was looking for, what a information!
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