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Taking Care of Ourselves & Each Other

Sleep Corner: SAD About the Sleep You're Getting?

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Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD or seasonal depression, is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and subsiding during the spring and summer. The gloomy weather, combined with gloomy thoughts, can result in symptoms of fatigue, daytime sleepiness, and/or increased sleep (hypersomnia). In a survey by the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, it was discovered that 80% of participants with SAD complained of winter hypersomnia, versus the 10% who complained of winter insomnia. 


Why do you experience SAD during the fall and winter seasons, and as a result, have a disruption in your sleep?

  1. The lack of sun exposure. Vitamin D from the sun helps to keep you awake, as well as boost your mood. During the colder seasons, it can be more difficult to get the sun exposure that you need, resulting in these feelings of fatigue. 
  2. Overproduction of melatonin. The shorter days, combined with reduced sunlight, can result in your brain producing too much melatonin. Although melatonin is vital to getting the rest you need, producing too much can result in you feeling drowsy and sluggish throughout the day.
  3. Circadian rhythm is out of alignment. As we learned in our previous Sleep Corner (October 2022), our body operates on a 24 hour cycle (circadian rhythm). When the sun comes up, your body naturally produces less melatonin, allowing you to feel more awake during the day, and as it begins to get dark, your body will produce more melatonin, signaling that it is time for bed. Without enough light exposure during the day, you are at risk of circadian misalignment and therefore, poor sleep.

To help ease the feelings of SAD and get you back on schedule with your sleep, try the following:

  • Get natural sun exposure for 20-30 minutes in the morning and in the middle of the day. Even if it looks a little gray, the quality of light on a winter morning will be better than what you can get in your room. The exposure to sunlight will help stimulate your body to produce the right hormones to increase your wakefulness and alertness
  • Light therapy. Through light therapy, you are exposing your body to an artificial light, providing your body with the vital light you are missing during the darker months. Be sure to get a light fixture or use light bulbs that are used specifically for light therapy. Not just any lamp or light fixture will work! (Light therapy lamps should be full spectrum and at least 10,000 lux– the equivalent of a bright summer morning.)
  • Relaxation techniques before bed. Doing so allows your body to relieve stress and unwind. Relaxation techniques can include yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises. 

Thankfully, feelings of SAD will soon subside as the spring and summer seasons approach, but in the meantime, try incorporating these sleep tips into your daily routine and get as much sunlight as you can!



Stanford Resources

  • Well-Being Coaching. A well-being coach can help you establish and practice good sleep hygiene, especially as you navigate the fall and winter seasons. Schedule a meeting with them today to start catching those Zzzs! Learn more.  
  • Counseling and Psychological Services. When your experience with SAD becomes too much to carry on your own, know that it is okay to reach out for support during this time. A CAPS counselor can provide you with the tools and resources to navigate and cope with these feelings. To schedule an initial appointment, call 650.723.3785 on weekdays from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Learn more
  • Office for Religious and Spiritual Life: Contemplative Programming. Check out the weekly opportunities this quarter to engage with others in the community for meditation and yoga.

Additional Resources