Holiday Stress, or SAD?

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Are you feeling low, having problems concentrating, or having sleep problems? While these may be signs of stress, they could also be SAD- Seasonal Affective Disorder. Let’s take a closer look at this often underdiagnosed disorder.

woman in winter at twilight

What is SAD?

SAD is Seasonal Affective Disorder, which happens when the days are short during wintertime. It’s a depression that’s linked to shorter daylight hours and a lower sun in the sky.


The severity of the depression ranges from mild to moderate. Some symptoms of SAD are poor mood, low energy, craving for carbohydrates, and difficulty concentrating. Sleeplessness and a loss of interest in daily activities are other symptoms.

People suffering from SAD could also experience hypersomnia, insomnia or both. Evolutionarily, this behavior is explained by the shortage of food during winter, when it made sense for people to sleep more and thus eat less.

However, the quality of sleep when experiencing SAD is also affected. Although the length of time spent in bed increases, the time spent is deep sleep actually decreases. More time is spent in the Rapid Eye Movement stage of sleep.


SAD affects people 5 months of a year, during the colder months. Physiological changes are triggered by not only daily circadian rhythms, but also the circannual rhythm, which is a change in temperature and rain patterns of the year.

As such, lower light levels and position of the sun in the sky can bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder. 1 out of 10 people report experiencing SAD during the summer months, a kind of reverse disorder.

An estimated 6% of Americans experience SAD. It is more prevalent in women, with some tendency for it to run in families. Those with non-SAD depression in their history, as well as other mood disorders in their families, tend to be more vulnerable and experience higher fluctuations with the seasons.

People who suffer from unipolar depression are also more likely to get SAD than people with bipolar depression.


Treatment for SAD often involves anti-depressant drugs, but light therapy (an exposure to a bright artificial light) has been proven to be very effective too. The light emanates from bright white fluorescent light bulbs.

Often, a person suffering from SAD simply needs to spend more time outdoors. Having more light in the home, by opening the shades and inviting more light into living areas can be helpful, as well as exercising and moving the body.

Sleep Study Findings

A study was launched in Pittsburgh to investigate why people experiencing SAD misreported sleeping four additional hours in the night during the winter. By posing a questionnaire that investigated participants’ beliefs about their sleeping patterns, whether they had been sleeping more or less than usual, researcher Kathryn Roecklein and her team found that that SAD participants held similar misconceptions to those suffering from insomnia.

Because of the depression, while individuals suffering from SAD may spend more time in bed, they are not actually sleeping, but rather just resting, which leads to misconceptions about how much they sleep. These misconceptions are important when it comes to correcting their notions about sleep.

By understanding, addressing and correcting these unhelpful beliefs about sleep through psychotherapy, treatments for seasonal affective disorder could be improved. This parallels an effective treatment for insomnia – cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as CBT-I – which aims to help people manage their thought patterns to improve their sleeping habits, as well as their mood, behavior and emotions.

If any of the symptoms above ring a bell, or are similar to what you’re experiencing, it’s time to skip the guesswork and find out for sure if Seasonal Affective Disorder, or some other cause, is affecting your life causing undue stress.

By participating in a sleep study, you will be able to pinpoint exactly what is the cause behind your sleeping troubles, better than you can self-report or even your doctor can. As the local expert who can help you to feel better during the colder months of the year, Sleep Rite is here to help. Contact us for help today!