How to Fight the SAD Season

Posted on Wednesday, April 17, 2019

As sun-filled days shorten in the autumn, the so-called seasonal blues come creeping into lives at work. As many as one in five persons in North America may be affected by this condition. This could mean that, on average, as many as one in five employees may struggle with the affects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). 

SAD has been recently identified as a physical condition. Dr. Pamela M. Peeke, MD, writing in Prevention magazine defined the disorder this way: "... a condition in which the shorter, darker days

Study Results

    In one six-year study involving 96 patients, conducted by Chicago  psychologist Charmane Eastman, 61 percent of the patients receiving high-intensity morning light had nearly complete remission of their SAD symptoms after three weeks of treatment. This was twice the recovery rate of patients using a placebo. Half the study's patients improved after evening light treatments.

The Physiology

    One of the more commonly known conditions resulting from lack of natural sunlight is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is triggered by the shortening of the photoperiod as seasons change. The shortened photoperiod allows melatonin, the hormone responsible for signaling that it's time to sleep, to build up to higher-than-normal levels in the blood, which in turn produces the symptoms of SAD.
    Much of the physiology behind SAD also plays a role in our daily sleep/wake cycle. When this cycle is disrupted, we get the symptoms of jet lag: clinical sleep disorders, severe fatigue, major digestive problems, and the inability to react or concentrate.
    Along with a host of people diagnosed and suffering with the symptoms of SAD, there is an ever greater number of people walking around with these symptoms occurring in varying degrees, which will no doubt affect their ability to function optimally and perform optimally in the workplace.
    It is reasonable to suggest that if full spectrum lighting is installed in the workplace, this would have a positive effect on the symptoms of those who are susceptible and increase their productivity.

- Source: International Academy of Chiropractic Occupational Health Consultants, Vol. 9, No.3

cause depression and destructive behaviors, including social withdrawal, fatigue, and overeating." 

Here's how employees with SAD have a negative impact in your workplace and on your business:

A salesperson slows down... making fewer calls and sales.
A data entry person makes more errors.
A supervisor becomes lethargic and disinterested, so her staff becomes less productive.
A trainee takes longer to learn his job.
A machine operator makes more mistakes and his productivity slows down.

How SAD Can be Bad... in the Workplace

At the very least, this condition creates tension and stress amongst people in the workplace. And many SAD sufferers experience lower productivity and more mistakes at work. In addition, here are other considerations:

Workers' Comp and SAD - If your windowless, or reduced-window, workplace results in an employee developing SAD symptoms that cause extreme SAD, the employee could argue that the workplace caused the condition. The employee might quit... and qualify for workers comp.

Unemployment - A SAD-affected employee's performance drops, so you terminate her. If the employee can show that her poorer performance is caused by light deprivation, your business could get hit with higher unemployment taxes.

Wrongful discharge and SAD - Continue the example above. This same employee could argue that she is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA). How so? Because she is terminated for performance affected by a health condition. All this employee needs to do is find a doctor or psychiatrist to make the diagnosis.

The ADA - Continue the example further. Employees whose SAD condition is diagnosed by a doctor may be protected by the ADA.

The good news: Most people affected by SAD can fairly easily overcome its bad effects on their behavior. The most helpful, single step SAD people can take is this: 

Get more exposure to sunlight. Alex Frangos, writing in the Wall Street Journal stated: "Countless studies show that access to the sun's rays bump up sales in stores, lubricate learning in classrooms and increase productivity and improve health at work."

So, Here's What to Do to Combat the Disorder 

1. Increase the intensity of light in the home and workplace... by installing more light in poorly lit areas.

2. Get outdoors in the light more. Take walks outside and glance at the sky from time to time.

3. Take a walk outdoors at lunchtime.

4. Engage in regular aerobic exercise.

5. Eat balanced meals with carb-crave-busting protein, fruits, whole grains, veggies.

6. Avoid sleeping too much. One way: Set the alarm to wake up earlier.

7. Turn on the lamp in the bedroom 1½ to two hours before getting up. Use a dawn simulator. Put the lamp in the bedroom on a timer that turns the lamp on early.

8. If possible, work next to a window, preferably a large window.

If the above activities don't boost you or the SAD associate or employee out of SAD... try using a light box. It's about the size of a briefcase. It puts out about 20-times more light than normal indoor light. And to combat SAD, work in front of the light box for 15 to 30 minutes a day.

Even put a light box in the break room for people to use during their free time.

For Help and More information


"Seasons of the Mind: Why You Get the Winter Blues and What You Can Do About It," by Norman Rosenthal. (Practicing psychiatrist Rosenthal is a pioneer in the discovery and study of SAD.)

"Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder: What It Is and How to Overcome It," by Norman Rosenthal.

"The Hibernation Response: Why You Feel Fat, Miserable and Depressed from October Through March, and How You Can Cheer Up Through Those Dark Days of Winter," by Peter Whybrow, Robert Bahr.

"Health and Light: The Effects of Natural and Artificial Light on Man and Other Living Things," by John N. Ott.

Lights and Light Accessories:

For sources of full-spectrum lights, light boxes, and similar light accessories, do a Web search using the term "seasonal affective disorder."

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