Study: Light therapy for S.A.D. may also help with sleep, alertness

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

S.A.D. or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is depression that occurs in a seasonal pattern, most commonly in the winter months, and sometimes it is called “winter depression” (1).

Additional symptoms may include fatigue, weight gain, increased appetite, oversleeping (1) occurring in a seasonal pattern.

SAD may often co-occur with a variety of other mental health conditions.

It can often occur as part of other mood disorders such as depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, etc (2).

What are some Treatment options for S.A.D.? (3)

  • Counseling
  • Medication
  • Vitamin D (5)
  • Light therapy
  • Other helpful strategies for improving depression may include :  nutrition (6 ), exercise (7 ), and being socially active.

A recent study looked at the impact of light therapy on sleep and circadian rhythm.

What was the study?

The study authors (8) identified and reviewed 40 available studies on the subject.

What were the results?

  • The study authors (8) found that while both bright light and SSRi’s helped mood, bright light therapy also helped with sleep wake cycle.
  • Separately (9), an analysis of 3 randomized trials found that dawn simulation ( a type of light therapy delivered in the mornings) helped with mood and reduced difficulty awakening and reduced morning drowsiness (9).

What are some caveats?

While the treatments are beneficial:

  • Light therapy can have side effects (10) such as mania, hyperactivity, irritability, headaches, etc.
  • Other treatment options mentioned above can also have side effects.

For this reason, if you are experiencing a seasonal pattern of depression, please seek the help of a mental health professional to determine IF and how much and what type of treatment may be best for you.

What are some of OSU’s campus resources for S.A.D. ?
•  OSU Office of Student Life- Counseling and Consultation Service
OSU Wilce Student health center

• OSU Student Wellness center (Wellness coaching, nutrition)
• Exercise at the RPAC

Are there any other helpful resources?

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.


  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), American Psychiatric Association, Arlington, VA 2013.
  3. Lam RW, Levitt AJ (editors). Canadian Consensus Guidelines for the Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Vancouver, British Columbia, Clinical & Academic Publishing, 1999.
  4. American Psychiatric Association. Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Major Depressive Disorder, Third Edition. October, 2010.
  8. Menculini G, Verdolini N, Murru A, et. al. Depressive mood and circadian rhythms disturbances as outcomes of seasonal affective disorder treatment: A systematic review. J Affect Disord. 2018 Dec 1;241:608-626. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.08.071. Epub 2018 Aug 15.
  9. Avery DH, Kouri ME, Monaghan K, Bolte MA, Hellekson C, Eder D. Is dawn simulation effective in ameliorating the difficulty awakening in seasonal affective disorder associated with hypersomnia? J Affect Disord. 2002 May;69(1-3):231-6.