As clocks go back, are you at risk of seasonal affective disorder?What to do if you're affected by SAD or the winter blues

01 November 2016

SAD lamp on a table by a window

SAD lamps are a popular way of relieving the symptoms of SAD

The start of winter's colder days and longer nights doesn't fill many of us with joy, but there's a sizeable group of people who are literally sickened by it.

Around three in every 100 people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - a severe depression with symptoms that are more apparent and severe during the winter.

The symptoms often begin in the autumn as the days start getting shorter, and are typically at their most severe during December, January and February.

SAD often improves and disappears in the spring and summer, although it may return each autumn and winter in a repetitive pattern. Three quarters of those with the condition are women.

Read our full guide to seasonal affective disorder symptoms and treatments.

SAD or winter blues?

Not everyone who feels down during winter has SAD. Below are five quick tips on what to do if you think you may have SAD:

  1. If your symptoms are so bad that they're negatively affecting your everyday life, speak to your GP.
  2. Distinguish SAD from other types of depression. Seasonal affective disorder is usually diagnosed if you have winter depression two years in a row and have symptoms that are not typical of depression.
  3. SAD symptoms differ from those of normal depression and include increased sleepiness during the day and eating more. You may crave sweet and high-carbohydrate foods - such as white bread and sugary foods - which can of course lead to weight gain.
  4. SAD can be treated using self-help methods, such as going out as much as possible on winter days to see more natural daylight, and by brightening rooms. Some people also use anti-depressants or talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Your GP will talk through the options with you.
  5. Light therapy is a recognised therapy and replaces the sunshine you would see in summer. One form is the use of light boxes, which are also known as SAD lamps - find out more in our guide to choosing a SAD lamp.

Choosing a SAD lamp

SAD lamps can cost from £50 to £250+. They vary in light intensity, type of light - for example blue light, or white light delivered through fluorescent tubes or LEDs - and how long you'll need to use them for each day (from 20 minutes to two hours). 

They also come in lots of different shapes and sizes, from compact handbag-sized models up to large lamps that can fill a whole room with intense light.

If you already know you have seasonal affective disorder and want to try light therapy in the form of a SAD lamp, go straight to our verdict on the biggest-selling SAD lamps.

For our reviews, we analysed the evidence behind SAD lamps and asked users to give their verdict on each of the popular models we assessed.

The models we reviewed weighed from as little as 130g to as much as 4.2kg. This SAD lamp weighs nearly as much as a gallon of paint, and - at 61cm tall and 33cm wide - casts some doubt on the manufacturer's recommendation that you can work by it.

More on this...