Difficulty getting up in the morning in the winter? It might be SAD

Here in the UK the days are noticeably shorter, and this time of year will herald for some the advent of low mood or sometimes full-blown depression known as ‘seasonal affective disorder’ (SAD). Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that many people dislike the winter because they can struggle to get up in the mornings. A lot of people say they hate having to get up ‘in the dark’. A recent study suggests that this phenomenon and SAD might have a common root.

This study in question, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, assessed individuals who exhibited evidence of what is known as ‘delayed phase sleep phenomenon’ (DPSP). This condition is characterised by individuals have difficulty falling asleep at night, and having difficult rising in the morning too. I have written about DPSP previously here.

The researchers looked for the evidence of SAD in individuals with DPSP, and compared this with ‘controls’ (those without DPSP). They found that those with DPSP were more than three times more likely to have SAD.

Those with DPSP were also found to be more likely to experience ‘seasonality’ in things like appetite, fatigue and body weight. In other words, those with DPSP were prone to experience things like increased fatigue, enhanced appetite and weight gain in the winter – something that is common with individuals suffering from SAD.

The authors of this study conclude that SAD and DPSP are often to be found together in the same person, and this supports the idea that they may share a common ‘pathophysiological mechanism’.

In the blog post I link to above, I write about two approaches that might be effective in helping those with DPSP. One of these is light therapy, and the other is treatment with the sleep-related hormone melatonin. Light therapy, by the way, has been shown to have potential in the treatment of SAD. I’m not aware of any research that has found melatonin helps individuals with SAD, but I would not be at all surprised if such evidence comes to light. For more about the natural treatment of SAD, see here.


1. Lee HJ, et al. Delayed sleep phase syndrome is related to seasonal affective disorder. J Affect Disord. 2011;133(3):573-9.

8 Responses to Difficulty getting up in the morning in the winter? It might be SAD

  1. hilda glickman 15 October 2011 at 11:02 pm #

    As I get older sleep has become a problem. Does anyone have any ideas.

  2. Alan 16 October 2011 at 1:25 am #


    I got a light box a couple of years ago and did find it helped me sleep better, helped my winter moods and feel more alert in the dark mornings.

    I have also tried melatonin, I sleep very deep and easy when using just 3mg, however, I have found I’m slightly groggy for a couple of hours in the morning- Although nowhere near as groggy if I hadn’t slept properly!

    Makes sense to me John.

  3. dr gayle 16 October 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    This is also a key sign of low thyroid function.

  4. John Briffa 16 October 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    dr gayle


  5. Deborah Booth 17 October 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    sleep being a problem as we get older…. yes a good topic please John…. Once I hit the menapause, late at 58,permanent hot flushes many times a night (not so bad in day now) sleep can be elusive. You often say how important getting enough sleep is to health, and i say “If only”. Have tried adhereing to all the rules to no avail, in fact the odd very late meal, too much vino, to much TV/computer, etc and good nights sleep! There is no pattern. It can’t be lack of daylight here in Northern Spain, and the sun shines most days even in mid winter.
    I talk to others in their sixties and the story is the same, we all used to sleep like babies for 8 solid hours come what may, then hit 50+ and it all becomes difficult. So, think of Hilda above, and myself and so many of us with no help/interest/answers to some of these later life problems.

  6. Donald G 20 October 2011 at 4:39 am #

    Whatever the real or supposed drawbacks, isn’t sleeping medication such as zolpidem (Ambien in the U.S.) better than poor sleep for the elderly?

  7. Mike Rawlinson 20 October 2011 at 4:33 pm #

    I tried no TV after 8pm but it made no differnce and actually if I can’t sleep I find getting up and watching a horror film quite soporific. The other thing that works for me is to eat at bed time – I can’t sleep without a bedtime snack, and of course a drink beer is better than wine due to the soporific effect of the hops which are used to treat insomnia. The only thing with the latter is to not have it too late or you need to get up and pee. I don’t find sleeping pills particularly heplful because they don’t always work and if I do wake I suffer from anxiety and I feel terrible next day.
    So what this leads to is that there is one problem with many causes and a different solution and we just have to find what is right for us as an individual.
    Walnuts as a bed time snack seem to be good for me!

  8. Stella H 22 October 2011 at 11:49 pm #

    Does anyone think there is any relationship between sleep patterns and time of year or even time of day of birth?
    I have found people who were born in the winter suffer less from SAD and people born either late at night or in the early hours, often struggle with sleeping at night and rising at a ‘reasonable’ time in the morning.
    Any thoughts on this?

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