Skip to main content
Accessibility|Contact|Privacy|Terms of Service

Helping People with Seasonal Affective Disorder to Sleep Better

  • Published: 2013-06-28 (Revised/Updated 2015-12-22) : Author: Melissa Carlson - University of Pittsburgh
  • Synopsis: Researchers find individuals with seasonal affective disorder incorrectly reported that they slept four more hours a night in the winter.
Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder - (SAD) - Defined as a type of depression that occurs at a certain time of the year, usually in the winter. People who live in places with long winter nights are at greater risk of SAD. A less common form of the disorder involves depression during the summer months. There is no test for SAD. Your health care provider can make a diagnosis by asking about your history of symptoms. Treatment for seasonal affective disorder includes light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications.

Main Document

"Roecklein and her team interviewed 147 adults between the ages of 18 and 65 living in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area during the winters of 2011 and 2012."

Lying awake in bed plagues everyone occasionally, but for those with seasonal affective disorder, sleeplessness is routine. University of Pittsburgh researchers report in the Journal of Affective Disorders that individuals with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) a winter depression that leads to loss of motivation and interest in daily activities have misconceptions about their sleep habits similar to those of insomniacs. These findings open the door for treating seasonal affective disorder similar to the way doctors treat insomnia.

Kathryn Roecklein, primary investigator and assistant professor in Pitt's Department of Psychology within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, along with a team of researchers from Pitt's School of Medicine and Reyerson University, investigated why, according to a previously published sleep study by the University of California, Berkeley, individuals with seasonal affective disorder incorrectly reported that they slept four more hours a night in the winter.

"We wondered if this misreporting was a result of depression symptoms like fatigue and low motivation, prompting people to spend more time in bed," said Roecklein. "And people with seasonal affective disorder have depression approximately five months a year, most years. This puts a significant strain on a person's work life and home life.

Roecklein and her team interviewed 147 adults between the ages of 18 and 65 living in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area during the winters of 2011 and 2012. Data was collected through self-reported questionnaires and structured clinical interviews in which participants were asked such questions as: "In the past month, have you been sleeping more than usual" and "How many hours, on average, have you been sleeping in the past month? How does that compare to your normal sleep duration during the summer

In order to understand participants' ideas about sleep, Roecklein's team asked them to respond to questions such as "I need at least 8 hours of sleep to function the next day" and "Insomnia is dangerous for health" on a scale from 0 to 7, where 7 means "strongly agree" and 0 means "disagree completely."

Picture of Kathryn Roecklein
About This Image: Picture of Kathryn Roecklein
Roecklein and her team found that SAD participants' misconceptions about sleep were similar to the "unhelpful beliefs" or personal misconceptions about sleep that insomniacs often hold. Due to depression, individuals with SAD, like those with insomnia, may spend more time resting in bed, but not actually sleeping leading to misconceptions about how much they sleep. These misconceptions, said Roecklein, play a significant role in sleep cognition for those with seasonal affective disorder.

"We predict that about 750,000 people in the Pittsburgh metro area suffer from seasonal affective disorder, making this an important issue for our community and the economic strength and vitality of our city," said Roecklein. "If we can properly treat this disorder, we can significantly lower the number of sufferers in our city."

Roecklein's research data suggests that addressing, understanding, and managing these "unhelpful beliefs" about sleep by way of psychotherapy could lead to improved treatments for seasonal affective disorder. One of the most effective treatment options for insomnia, said Roecklein, is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (known as CBT-I), which aims to help people take control of their thinking to improve their sleep habits as well as mood, behavior, and emotions.

Roecklein's next research project aims to improve treatment for seasonal affective disorder by studying light perception and biological clock synchronization. Light from the environment synchronizes internal biological rhythms with the timing of dawn and dusk, which naturally changes with the seasons. This synchronization allows people to be awake and alert during the day and to sleep at night. Roecklein will examine whether people with seasonal affective disorder perceive this light from the environment differently because of changes in the function of neurological pathways from the eye to the brain. This could help uncover reasons why people suffer from seasonal affective disorder and could suggest new treatment options.

Roecklein's research team included, Peter L. Franzen and Brant P. Hasler of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry, Pitt psychology graduate student Patrica M. Wong, and Colleen E. Carney from Reyerson University's Department of Psychology.

Their paper, "The Role of Beliefs and Attitudes About Sleep in Seasonal and Non-seasonal Mood Disorder, and Non-depressed Controls" was originally published online May 23 in the Journal of Affective Disorders. This work was partially supported by a National Institutes of Health grant.

Similar Topics

1 : Throat Reflexes Differ in People with Tetraplegia and Sleep Apnea : The Physiological Society.
2 : Senior Sleep: Sleeping Habits and Napping : Thomas C. Weiss.
3 : Social Jet Lag: Time Difference Adjustment : Disabled World.
4 : Circadian Clock Puzzle - Final Pieces Found : Mark Derewicz - mark.derewicz@unch.unc.edu - Ph. 919-923-0959.
5 : Making Healthy Sleep a Priority - Sleep Well, Be Well Campaign : American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
From our Sleep Disorders section - Full List (33 Items)


Submit disability news, coming events, as well as assistive technology product news and reviews.


Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.


Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.


List of awareness ribbon colors and their meaning. Also see our calendar of awareness dates.


Blood Pressure Chart - What should your blood pressure be, and information on blood group types/compatibility.





1 : Telemedicine Helps Overcome Healthcare Gender Based Barriers
2 : Screen Reader Plus Keyboard Helps Blind, Low-Vision Users Browse Modern Webpages
3 : Our Digital Remains Should be Treated with Same Care and Respect as Physical Remains
4 : Tungsten: Concern Over Possible Health Risk by Human Exposure to Tungsten
5 : Student Loan Discharge Process for Disabled Veterans Made Easier
6 : Growing Bone and Cartilage Tissues for Humans from Flaxseed Like Particles
7 : Throat Reflexes Differ in People with Tetraplegia and Sleep Apnea
8 : UTA Grant to Help Minority Students Link Assistive Technology with Disability Studies
9 : Body Probe as Thin as a Hair Has Imaging Function and Temperature Sensor
10 : Dripping Candle Wax Bone Disease (Melorheostosis) Cause Solved


Disclaimer: This site does not employ and is not overseen by medical professionals. Content on Disabled World is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. See our Terms of Service for more information.

Reporting Errors: Disabled World is an independent website, your assistance in reporting outdated or inaccurate information is appreciated. If you find an error please let us know.

© 2004 - 2018 Disabled World™