Seasonal affective disorder: Light boxes and other SAD treatments to beat the winter blues

SAD affects one in 15 people [Photo: Getty]
SAD affects one in 15 people [Photo: Getty]

In the words of Jon Snow: “winter is coming.”

While many will be happy for the excuse opportunity of a cosy night in, for others the long, dark nights can trigger the start of SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

According to recent statistics, one in 15 people in the UK is said to suffer from seasonal affective disorder.

The NHS describes SAD as a form of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern.

“SAD is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the winter,” the site reads.

Often triggered by the long nights and short days, and sufferers symptoms include low mood, lethargy, restless sleep and loss of libido.

“SAD is common, and it can affect people from all walks of life,” explains Dr Preethi Daniel, clinical director at private GP chain, London Doctors Clinic.

“As the days get darker, and the more you wake up before the sun even rises, you might start feeling a persistent low mood or lack of energy. You may be struggling to concentrate and it’s possible you may even find less pleasure in doing your usual activities.”

Thankfully there are some things you can do to combat the effects of SAD and give the winter blues the heave ho…

Eat yourself happier

Start by beating the carb coma.

“Carb craving is a major problem in winter,” explains Dr Daniel. “Eating healthily, aiming for all food groups and those that release energy slowly will cause less carb cravings and sluggishness.”

Dr Daniel also suggests limiting sugar intake and cutting down on caffeine. “Eat foods rich in folic acid such as leafy greens. There is some evidence we use it to make serotonin which is a happy hormone,” she continues.

“There is also some evidence that berries prevent us releasing cortisol, which is responsible for stress.”

There’s no doubt that the winter weather makes us crave comfort foods, but according to Dr Daniel we should try to keep a limit on chocolatey treats.

“Indulge if you must but make it dark chocolate. Antioxidants and polyphenols in them can significantly elevate your mood,” she explains.

Stay active

Heading out for a run in the cold might be the last thing you fancy, but exercising regularly helps release those happy hormones.

“It also beats sluggishness and warms those muscles,” Dr Daniel explains. “If you find you are little demotivated at work, do some deskercise or even go out for a brisk walk at lunch time.”

Up your vitamin D

“Vitamin D is very important to maintain good mood,” explains Dr Daniel. Though we get it naturally from sunlight and store it in our skin, on cloudy days, we make less of it and deplete our stores much more quickly.

“This not only affects our mood, it also causes general aches and pains further adding to woes. Taking good quality over the counter supplement in the form of sprays or tablets will help.” Try Once A Day Sunshine D (£5.24).

Get some light

Even on a cloudy day, we need natural light to reset our circadian clock.

“Not only that, light therapy is an effective treatment for SAD,” Dr Daniel explains. “You can use a light box, which is 10 times more powerful than office lighting. Sitting in front of it for 30 minutes can boost your mood.

“There are also lighting devices available on the market which mimic a bright summer morning sunrise and create natural light in your room in the morning. By mimicking a natural sunlight, your body is tricked into feeling good and energetic for a busy day at the office.”

4 of the best SAD lights

Lightboxes provide summer levels of bright light to treat SAD, lift mood, boost concentration and restore natural energy.

Lumie Bodyclock Shine 300: £125,

[Photo: Amazon]
[Photo: Amazon]

Lumie lamps have been scientifically tested, and are recommended by SADA, the UK charity for SAD.

Homni Smart Lamp Sleep and Wake Up Aid with Dot Sensor: £199, John Lewis

[Photo: Amazon]
[Photo: Amazon]

Connect to your phone or tablet and the light will analyse the temperature, humidity, sound levels and brightness of your bedroom, and monitor the quality of your sleep through its Wellness Coach App.

Sad Light Co. Diamond 5 – SAD Light Box: £259,

[Photo: Amazon]
[Photo: Amazon]

Small but powerful, users claim to have felt the benefits after just 20 minutes.

Litepod SAD Light: £99.45,


At just 38cm x 12.5cm x 12.5cm this is perfect for sticking on your desk.

Seek help

If you are trying really hard but are still finding those winter days a struggle, consider speaking to your GP or even your friends and family.

“Counselling, psychotherapy and medication can also be used to treat SAD,” Dr Daniel says. “If you’re stretched for time at work, some private GPs offer video consultations, so there’s no excuse to struggle in silence – get the help you need.”

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