Acupuncture & Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder

In Boulder, nearly 17% of the population is at risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and winter depression (1). Sitting just north of the 40-degree latitude, we experience significant changes in daylight hours over the course of the year. In the summer, we can play outside until 9:30 at night and wake at 6 to begin all over again. However, in the winter, the shortened daylight hours can have a significant impact on not only our activities but our brains and our body rhythm. Seasonal Affective Disorder causes a form of depression that doesn’t look the way we expect it to, many people don’t even feel sad. Most people who suffer from SAD report increased food cravings for sweets and carbohydrates, a desire to sleep more, and a general lack of motivation to do things without notable changes to their mood (1). Along with winter time depression, many SAD sufferers also experience mild hyperactivity in the summer months as the increase in light also creates changes within our bodies.


The seasonal affective disorder can be treated no matter the seasonRegulating your mood at any time of the year has been shown to alleviate those winter blues. In western medicine, lightboxes are often used and SAD sufferers are often prescribed year-round antidepressants and mood stabilizers to prevent the ups and downs that come with the seasons and the change of light (1).

Acupuncture can be a very effective alternative for treating these psychological conditions. In randomized control trials, acupuncture proved at least as effective as several different types of prescription antidepressants (2), while also working more quickly and reducing symptoms more powerfully (3). Acupuncture also has significantly fewer side effects than the medications and it can help moderate some of the less than desirable side effects of pharmaceutical antidepressants including decreased libido (3). Chinese herbal medicine is commonly used in conjunction with acupuncture to enhance the long-term benefits of treatment. There are also some important things you can do at home such as, take midday walks when the sun is at its peak, open the shades in your house and leave them open so you get the maximum light possible in the mornings, and leave the sunglasses at home when you can (1).
Article by Stephanie Duininck, L.Ac, WWA Patient Education Outreach