How do SAD lamps work?
Essentially, SAD lamps or light therapy may help boost serotonin levels. "There is substantial data to suggest that light therapy will be beneficial to those with SAD, in terms of improvement of symptoms," says Michael Breus, PhD, sleep advisor for Napjitsu, a new supplement line working to help people be more energized and focused using time-released caffeine and nootropics. "There are a few theories that are thought to be at play with this particular type of therapy: consistent therapy (timing of administration) will lead to help align your circadian rhythms, the therapy itself is thought to affect serotonin production and balance it (many people with any form of depression will have serotonin issues), and it increases alertness."
What to look for in a SAD lamp
That said, you can't just flip the switch on any old light to get the benefits—it's important to look for products designed for SAD treatment, Dr. Breus says. "Getting just a general lightbox is not a good idea here. The biggest concern is UV light exposure. SAD lightboxes should be designed to filter out most or all UV light," he explains.
He also recommends looking at how bright the light is, as current clinical guidelines recommend 10,000 lux or the equivalent. In addition, you want to look at if it can cause eye damage. "Some lightboxes are designed with special eye safety features which could be helpful (timers, etc), and you should check with your doctor especially if you have any eye issues," Dr. Breus says. And, when it comes to light therapy boxes, bigger is usually better because you don't have to sit as close to the light to get the full 10,000 lux dosage. Studies have found that positioning the lamp at a 45-degree angle from the eyes for 30 minutes can help in treating SAD, and a clinical trial also found that the best time to use one of these lamps is first thing in the morning.
The best SAD lamps
This lamp is a popular option, and it’s not hard to see why. It has a nice, large screen, and you get the full 10,000 lux dose sitting 12 inches away from the light. (Smaller screens require you to sit closer to get the recommended dosage.) It comes on an adjustable stand that allows you to change the height and the angle of the light. According to the manufacturer, it also blocks 99.3 percent of UV light.
Promising review: “I ordered this light on the advice of one of my doctors, to help with seasonal depression. He gave me a couple of sheets with information about the requirements for a light to help with SAD. This one, and another Carex model, were the only ones on the Amazon site that seemed to meet the requirements on the study sheet. My information gave the required lumens, which many lights meet, but the paper said the light needs to shine DOWN on you, not up towards your face. I looked at many that were offered on this site and others, and it seemed the majority did shine up—sort of like an old fashioned make up mirror tilted up toward your face.
This light is helping—I am not feeling as gloomy and as if I just have to make it through the day, as I usually do this time of year with the short days. I also thinks it helps me to sleep more normal hours.”
While this box may not be the most aesthetically pleasing option, it gets the job done. You get the full 10,000 lux dose when you sit 24 inches away, and it also has a light diffuser to help protect your eyes. Additionally, it doesn’t cast any UV rays.
Promising review: “I had seen this for a long time but the price chased me away. It was the reviews that brought me back and the dread of another winter coming up. And wanting the ‘real deal’ for a light box. When it comes to light boxes, I have found prices does not always equate quality. However, this one is dead on perfect. It’s a warm big light that cheers me up but not the cold super bright light that makes me cringe.”
This lamp has two settings: one that offers 10,000 lux at 12 inches, and another that offers basic task lighting so it doubles as a desk lamp. The height and angle are both adjustable.
Promising review: “I use this product all day, every day during the winter and really depend on it to boost my mood with additional UV light. It’s very sturdy with a nice, heavy, chunky base. The lamp came with a spare lightbulb, which I haven’t had to use yet. Assembly was very easy and quick, just follow the directions in the pamphlet. The lamp is somewhat top heavy because of the large lamp cover and bulb, but stays well-balanced when tilted into different positions. Recommend this to anyone who needs a little UV light boost at work or at home.”
This option is less clunky than the brand’s lightbox, and uses LED instead of bulbs. You get the full 10,000 lux sitting 25 inches away. It’s also one of the more portable options on this list, and has an adjustable stand that offers 13 different angles you can position it in.
Promising review: “I am chronically ill: depression and fatigue are my biggest hurdles, especially during winter. I am also a conscious consumer and do ample research before I buy or test several competing products. FOR REAL DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME LOOKING ANY FARTHER—this is the best you will get for the money! This lamp keeps symptoms completely at bay!!! Also helps keep a healthy circadian rhythm unbeatable by any other lamp. It performs equally if not better than a bigger light (don’t be fooled by the research saying bigger is better or blue light is more effective) this baby can reach farther than most big lamps claim and more accurately mimics the sun.”
This portable lamp is thin and lightweight, plus it has a detachable stand—but it can also be mounted to your wall. It’s also #2 on Amazon’s best sellers in light therapy products list. As mentioned earlier, bigger is usually better when it comes to light therapy lamps, so the smaller frame of this one means you have to sit with your face close—like, six inches away—in order to get enough light.
Promising review: “This is a GREAT light! I have never had a HappyLight before, and this is really a game changer! I live in NYC where it feels like it is gray all the time, and in the past I have certainly felt the effects. This season I noticed that my energy never lagged and I was still able to hop out of bed even though it was dark. I use it for about 30 minutes per day while eating an early breakfast and it keeps me going all day! I cannot say enough good things about this light. Also it is small enough to be portable which is very convenient, it would fit anywhere in my apartment. Highly recommend!”
This box boasts a large screen with an adjustable panel and five different elevation settings. It offers the full light dose at 14 inches.
Promising review: “A true lifesaver for people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Highly recommend!”
If you’re low on counter space, try this four foot standing lamp. It has a rotating head so you can customize the angle while it’s at the recommended 12-inches away from your face.
Promising review: “I’m not entirely sure I have S.A.D. – I did have a very rough winter emotionally last year for no apparent reason, however, but more relevant is the fact that it’s physically impossible for me to get out of bed in the morning when it’s dark outside. It was starting to affect my job, so I asked my doctor about using a SAD lamp after reading online that you should seek medical advice before taking such a step. He specifically recommended this lamp, and the difference was instant and astounding. It completely reset my internal clock, and now I can get up at 5:30am without any issues whatsoever! The reset also has helped me get to bed at a decent hour, instead of 12 or 1 in the morning as I was doing before. And I definitely feel more tired and emotionally low if I don’t use it on a given day, so if I did have S.A.D. it has fixed that as well.”
This UV-free light offers three settings; the max setting is what will give you the recommended 10,000 lux dosage. It has a timer that you can set in 10 minute intervals up to an hour.
Promising review: “This is the BEST thing I have bought myself in forever! No more winter blues. I use it an hour a day as soon as I get home from work. Mood has improved so much that I find myself singing all of the time! Highly recommend to all!”
This UV-free light delivers 10,000 lux light intensity at a distance of 10 inches for 30 minutes. It has a white diffusing lens that helps evenly distribute the light and minimize glare.
Promising review: “I have suffered from SAD for years, each year getting increasingly worse than the last. I was very skeptical that a light box would help. I purchased this model, after completing research on other similar units. I used it for the first time this morning, within minutes of getting up, and feel more energized and motivated than I have in quite a while. So much so…I just purchased a second one to keep at my office.”
This lightbox is the perfect size for a WFH setup. It offers full spectrum, UV-free light that is designed to mimic sunlight. It offers the recommended light dosage from 14 inches away.
Promising review: “I rarely write reviews, but wow. Yes, this light is a bit pricey and yes, it does have a soft clicking noise when turned on….but it works. I have seasonal disorder which seems to be getting a little worse as I age. I’ve tried high end vitamin D pills with no change whatsoever. I started using this light 30min every morning while I eat breakfast. I noticed my mood had slowly gotten better over the last 2 weeks of use.”
The lux output of this light is 10,000 at 10 inches, and the screen is adjustable so that it can be used horizontally or vertically. It’s affordable light therapy lamp with a solid 4.5 star rating on Amazon.
Promising review: “Within a week of using this device I already feel loads better. Actually, within 5 days of using it I began feeling much better. As a Texan who moved to the Pacific NorthWest, I didn’t entirely believe that SAD was a thing, but oh my goodness it is. USE THIS LAMP, DON’T STAY IN DENIAL!”
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