Sleep in fall/winter seasonal affective disorder: effects of light and changing seasons

J Psychosom Res. 1994 May;38(4):323-37. doi: 10.1016/0022-3999(94)90037-x.


Disturbances of sleep are a hallmark of seasonal affective disorders (SAD), as they are of other mood disorders. Fall/winter SAD patients most often report hypersomnia. Among responses of 293 SAD patients on a symptom questionnaire, complaints of winter hypersomnia (80%) greatly exceeded insomnia (10%), hypersomnia plus insomnia (5%), or no sleep difficulty (5%). Increased sleep length in fall/winter is not unique to SAD. Among 1571 individuals across four latitudes surveyed at random from the general population, winter sleep increases of < or = 2 hr/day relative to summer were reported by nearly half. However, hypersomnia had a low correlation (r = 0.29) with the total number of other SAD symptoms that were reported in this sample. Ten SAD patients kept daily sleep logs across 1 yr that showed increases in fall and winter (sleeping most in October; least in May) whose maximum averaged 2.7 hr per day more weekend sleep than in spring and summer. These winter increases might have been somewhat attenuated since most received light therapy during part of the winter. Nocturnal EEG recordings of depressed SAD patients in winter showed decreased sleep efficiency, decreased delta sleep percentage, and increased REM density (but normal REM latency) in comparison with recordings: (1) from themselves in summer; (2) from themselves after > or = 9 days of light therapy; or (3) from age- and gender-matched healthy controls. Thus, the extent of fall/winter oversleeping recorded by our SAD patients did not differ dramatically from that reported by the general population, but sleep complaints of our SAD patients have been accompanied by features of sleep architecture that are different from healthy controls and are reversed by summer or by bright-light therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / psychology
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phototherapy*
  • Polysomnography
  • Reference Values
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / psychology*
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / therapy
  • Seasons*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / psychology
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / therapy
  • Sleep Stages*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / psychology*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / therapy
  • Sleep, REM