What is this study about?

This is a research study of the effectiveness of light and negative air ions for treating winter depression when presented either during the final hours of sleep or upon awakening.  All of these are non-drug approaches to treating symptoms, and we are investigating how these three treatments compare with each other in relieving the symptoms of winter depression, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).   

Participation is voluntary and treatment is free.  You must be 18 to 65 years old to be eligible.  Participants receive expert diagnosis and supervision along with loan of the treatment apparatus.  Read below to find out if this study is right for you.

 Why do people get depressed during the winter and not the summer?

During the summer, when people who get winter depression are feeling well, both the amount of sunlight and negative ions in the air circulation are at higher levels than in the winter.  People who are especially sensitive to these environmental factors may be most likely to experience SAD. 

 What are the symptoms of winter depression?

Beyond having the “blues,” people with SAD typically experience a range of distinct problems.  Here’s a useful checklist, although not all of these symptoms need be present:

  • Seeping too much, or having trouble waking up
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Overeating
  • Annual weight gain, with weight loss in spring and summer
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Feeling down, sad, or hopeless
  • Feeling bad about yourself or feeling you were letting yourself or family down
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could notice

 Again, people with winter depression feel energetic, motivated and “normal” in the spring and summer months.  If you experience some of these symptoms, you might be eligible for our study.


  • Morning bright-light therapy:

Soon after waking up, you sit at a special lighting device for 30 minutes.  While doing this, you can read, write, eat breakfast, or do any number of other quiet activities.

  • Dawn simulation:

While you are still asleep, an automatic computerized lighting device mimics a natural springtime dawn.  Treatment is over by the time you wake up.

  • Negative air ionization:

Also during sleep, a silent electronic device in your bedroom activates to create atmospheric conditions similar to springtime.


Participants start with treatment for three weeks to test its effectiveness.  The treatments vary in dose (i.e., the intensity of the ionization) or timing (i.e., how quickly the artificial dawn rises), and are randomly assigned.  The informed consent process will include a discussion of the risks and benefits of participation. 

Participants visit the New York State Psychiatric Institute for periodic evaluation sessions.  Scheduling is flexible.

 After completing a treatment period, participants have the opportunity to try one of the other treatments for comparison. 


The Clinical Chronobiology group is the major U.S. center studying treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder.  They have produced numerous clinical and scientific publications on the topic.  Founded 1984, they pioneered the concept that environmental therapies – supplementing indoor light and air conditions – leads to an improved mood state in people with depression.  This discovery was made while treating people with winter depression.


Dr. Michael Terman, Director, received his Ph.D. degree in physiological psychology from Brown University, and is a Professor in the Psychiatry Department at Columbia’s College of Physicians & Surgeons.  He collaborates in his work with his long-time associate, Dr. Jiuan Su Terman, and their associates Dr. Ziad Boulos and Dr. Mila Macchi.

 PLEASE CALL 212-543-5714
mentioning your interest in the winter depression study.