Seasonal Affective Disorder: Red Light and Tanning

Short days and the biting cold make everyone yearn for spring. Winter blues are much more common than you would like to think. When days start getting colder and darker in the winter, a lot of people start experiencing a mood shift. They begin feeling down and lethargic most of the time. 

Feeling gloomy during the cold winter months is quite common. However, if feelings of sadness begin hindering your quality of life, especially in the winter, you may be suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

What is SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)?

When seasons change, many people experience mood changes. They feel sad and not like their usual self. However, such mood changes only occur for a short time.

In some cases, however, these mood swings get more serious and start affecting the daily life of the person. It starts adversely affecting the way a person thinks and feels. When such a significant mood and behavior change occurs, the person may be suffering from SAD.

In medical terms, SAD is a type of depression that occurs with seasonal changes. People suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder maintain normal mental health almost throughout the year, except during a particular season. Such people display depressive symptoms almost at the same time every year, especially during winter.

In a large number of cases, the symptoms of SAD typically start in late fall or early winter. These symptoms mostly go away on their own during the spring and summer. This is called winter depression or winter-pattern SAD.

In a few cases, people experience mood and behavior changes during the spring or summer months. This is known as summer depression of summer-pattern SAD and is quite rare.

SAD: Signs and symptoms

SAD is not a different mental disorder. It is a type of depression that reoccurs during specific months of the year. The signs and symptoms of SAD, therefore, are similar to that of major depression. The symptoms of winter-pattern SAD and summer-pattern SAD, may, however, be different. One must note that not all people suffering from SAD experience all the symptoms.

Some of the major symptoms of SAD are listed below:

  • Feelings of depression for most of the day, almost every day

  • Loss of interest in activities that you may have once enjoyed

  • Experience fluctuations in weight or appetite

  • Feeling lethargic or flustered

  • Experiencing problems with sleep

  • Feeling less energetic

  • Experience feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness

  • Having problems with concentration

  • Having suicidal thoughts or frequent thoughts about death

Additional symptoms of winter-pattern SAD include:

  • Hypersomnia or oversleeping

  • Overeating

  • Weight gain

  • Social withdrawal

Summer-pattern SAD symptoms include:

  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping

  • Weight loss owing to poor appetite

  • Feelings of agitation and restlessness

  • Anxiety

  • Episodes of violent behavior

SAD: Who are more prone to it?

Millions of people suffer from SAD without knowing that they have the condition. It is much more common in women than in men. It is also more common in people living further up the north, where people experience shorter daylight hours in the winter months.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is also more prevalent in people suffering from bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder. Also, people with other mental disorders like ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), anxiety disorders, eating disorders, or panic disorders are also more prone to SAD. 

SAD may also run in families. People with relatives suffering from major depression or schizophrenia are also more prone to develop SAD.

SAD: What causes it?

Scientists have not yet been able to pinpoint the exact reason that causes SAD. Research shows that people suffering from SAD secrete lesser amounts of a brain chemical called serotonin that helps regulate mood. Research also shows that sunlight helps maintain normal serotonin levels in the human body. However, in people suffering from SAD, this function is disturbed, resulting in lesser secretion of serotonin during the winter months.

In other studies, it has been found that people with SAD secrete increased levels of another brain chemical called melatonin. The hormone melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain and regulates the normal sleep-wake cycle. Those suffering from SAD produce greater amounts of melatonin, thereby causing sleepiness.

Both serotonin and melatonin help maintain the natural rhythm of the human body tied to the season’s day-night cycle. Increased or decreased levels of serotonin and melatonin disrupt the natural rhythm. As such, people suffering from SAD find it difficult to adjust to the changes in daylight hours, causing mood, behavior, and sleep changes.

Vitamin D is essential to maintain normal levels of serotonin. Besides certain food sources, the skin also produces Vitamin D on exposure to sunlight. Since there is less sunlight in the winters, people with SAD have depleted levels of Vitamin D, which further hinders serotonin production.

SAD treatments

SAD is treatable and some of the more common treatments are:

Sunlight or indoor tanning beds

Being out in the sunlight is probably the easiest way to combat SAD. Even though there is lesser sunlight during the winter, it is important to get outside whenever the sun is out during the cold, dark winter days. You may want to take a walk during your lunch break or play with your children in the snow. Another great way to get some much-needed sunlight is to engage in an outdoor winter activity like snowshoeing, skiing, or ice-skating. Exposing yourself to natural sunlight increases the production of Vitamin D, which, in turn, boosts serotonin production and improves your overall mood.

Light therapy

Light therapy treats SAD by replicating natural light with lightboxes. It uses white fluorescent bulbs to mimic sunlight. Light therapy can be extremely beneficial in regulating the release of melatonin. Melatonin levels typically increase when the sun goes down. Those undergoing light therapy need to spend a prescribed amount of time looking at the lightbox each day. It is important to follow your doctor’s orders to ensure that the treatment is effective. Besides white light, infrared light therapy and red light therapy are also extremely beneficial to treat SAD.



Regular exercise, research shows, has a profound impact on anxiety, depression, and overall mental health. Exercise has often been called a natural antidepressant. Exercise helps increase levels of serotonin and endorphins, which both affect and regulate your mood. Experts recommend moderate-level exercise of at least 30 minutes most days of the week to better mental health.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy typically helps people learn how to cope with difficult situations. CBT-SAD helps people recover from Seasonal Affective Disorder. CBT mostly focuses on replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. CBT-SAD uses behavioral activation, which helps individuals identify and schedule pleasant, engaging indoor or outdoor activities to combat the loss of interest they generally experience in the winter.



When other conservative treatments are not effective, you may need antidepressants to regulate the chemical imbalances associated with the winter blues and SAD. It is important to consult your doctor before taking any such medications.


Vitamin D

Most people suffering from SAD often have depleted levels of Vitamin D. Such people may benefit from natural supplements of Vitamin D.

How does exercise alleviate levels of depression, SAD, and anxiety?

Studies show that exercise is extremely effective in treating mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medications. The upside is that exercise does not come with the side effects that many antidepressants have. Running for as little as 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression significantly. 

There are many reasons why exercise is a powerful tool to fight depression. Exercise promotes positive changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that create feelings of calm and well-being. It increases endorphin secretion in your brain that energizes your spirits and makes you feel good. Exercise can also serve as a welcome distraction that allows you some much-needed ‘me’ time. It gives you a  break from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.

Exercise is a natural and extremely effective treatment for anxiety. It helps remove tension and stress. It also increases your physical and mental energy and improves your overall well-being by releasing endorphins. Paying attention to your feelings while exercising can be much more beneficial in treating anxiety than simply zoning out. Being mindful of your feelings not just helps improve your physical condition quicker, but it can also help remove the constant worries that flood your head.

Since exercise is an effective treatment for depression, it can also greatly benefit those suffering from SAD. Any kind of exercise can help; however, some exercises are better suited to treat SAD, including yoga, tai chi, swimming, walking, and dancing.

How does infrared light therapy help treat depression, anxiety, and SAD?

Infrared light therapy uses photobiomodulation that stimulates the frontal lobe in the cerebral cortex of the brain. Experts believe that depression may be a result of disturbed brain metabolism. It causes low brain energy, that in turn, leads to mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and SAD.

Infrared light therapy helps stimulates neurons in the brain to produce more energy that helps the brain carry out daily activities at a normal level.

How does red light therapy help treat depression, anxiety, and SAD?

Red light therapy is also a totally natural treatment without any common side effects. It’s really just giving your body and cells more natural light, just like you’d get from the sun (but without the UV rays or heat). That makes red light therapy a safe, easy way to add natural light to your life and experience the health benefits in the winter.

With red light therapy, you can get more real, natural light in your body even when it’s dark outside. Red light therapy has low to no risk, and hence, it is likely to become a mainstream seasonal depression treatment in the near future. Red light therapy performed by expert professionals demonstrated antidepressant properties in patients with major depressive disorder. It is also well tolerated by patients, with no serious side effects or negative reactions.

Poor sleep has often been associated with depression and anxiety. People who often struggle with mood disorders have insomnia or poor sleeping patterns. Red light therapy offers better sleep quality, which in turn helps combat depression. It helps adjust your circadian rhythm and resets your sleep cycle.

How does tanning indoors help improve your mood?

People prefer tanning indoors not just for its cosmetic benefits but also for the relaxing effects of Ultraviolet light. When tanning outdoors, there is always a risk of overexposure to UV rays. However, that risk is mitigated when tanning indoors. 

UV lights used in indoor tanning beds help maintain sufficient levels of Vitamin D. It increases the levels of Vitamin D in the body, which improves mood and helps counter Seasonal Affective Disorder. Low levels of Vitamin D have also been associated with heart disease, osteoporosis, and premature aging. Lack of sunlight in winter months can often lead to depleted levels of Vitamin D. You can get your necessary dose of UV rays when tanning indoors at a reputed tanning salon.

UV lights also stimulate the thyroid glands in your body, which improves your metabolism. Effective metabolism helps you lose excess weight and makes you feel healthy and light. It also improves your appearance, which helps improve your self-esteem and body image. Poor self-esteem is also a major cause of depression and anxiety.

Red light therapy and indoor tanning at Rehab Body Lab

Red light therapy treatments at Rehab Body Lab are performed by expert professionals offering a host of skin and other health benefits. Tanning indoors at RBL gives you an experience like no other. Our Vitamin D tanning beds offer excellent benefits to those suffering from the winter blues or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). 

Rehab Body Lab is a family-owned wellness studio that strives to meet and exceed customer satisfaction. We take all the necessary measures to ensure the comfort and protection of our customers. We will be happy to answer any questions that you may have about red light therapy or tanning indoors. Call today 902-417-1397 or book an appointment online at