Healthy Mind

Seasonal Affective Disorder Light Therapy Lamps People Say Are ‘True Lifesavers’

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With daylight savings cutting our days shorter overnight, it's made me think more about the light therapy box my dad would set up in our computer room (#1990s) to help with his Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) a lot lately. I just moved from LA to a city that experiences actual seasons and I can feel the colder, darker days affecting my mood—so I took a cue from my dad, and started looking into SAD light therapy lamps, which can help offset the effects of SAD, which is season-specific and creeps up as the days succumb to winter. Symptoms can include low energy, social withdrawal, and sleep issuesIt's estimated that around six percent of people in the U.S. experience SAD.

In This Article

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.O

In addition to light intensity (at least 10,000 lux), Dr. Swathi Varanasi, an integrative medicine specialist recommends looking for something that's UV-free, as UV light can be damaging to the eyes and could provide more harm than good for SAD patients and a surface area that's minimum 30-50 cm). You should also try to make sure the lamp has adjustable angles, as it's not ideal to look directly into lamp, but rather have it perched a bit higher than eye-level and facing downward (much like the sun).

Vanessa Osorio, a sleep expert and Certified Sleep Science Coach at Sleepopolis, adds to look for lamps that have different brightness levels so it's easy and convenient to adjust when needed. Also double check the specifications. "Some light therapy lamps are designed for other things, such as skin disorders, rather than SAD, so make sure you buy one that is specifically designed to treat SAD," she says.

The Best SAD lamps

Verilux HappyLight Luxe Lamp
Verilux HappyLight Luxe Lamp — $56.00

This Verilux lamp provides the recommended 10,000 lux of UV-free LED light for safe and effective use, says Osorio. It’s also more budget-friendly price than most SAD lamps on the market. You can customize your light with four brightness levels and three color temperature hues, and there’s a countdown timer you can program in five minute increments, up to an hour. It’s also super thin and portable, and you can use it with the detachable stand or mount it on the wall.

Pros:

  • 10,000 LUX
  • Adjustable brightness levels
  • Programmable timer
  • Thin and portable

Cons:

  • Need to sit close to the lamp
Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Bright Light Therapy Lamp
Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Bright Light Therapy Lamp — $116.00

This Carex lamp has 10,000 LUX, spectrum light, a glare-free screen, and a flexible angle stand that you can adjust to project light downwards. It also blocks out 99.3% of UV and has two light settings, so you can use it for light therapy or as a desk lamp for working. Dr. Varanasi says this lamp is one that many patients swear by from overall hits-most-of-the-marks perspective.

Pros:

  • 10,000 LUX at 12-14″
  • Projects light downward
  • Flexible angle stand
  • Blocks UV

Cons:

  • Stand is plastic
Voraiya Light Therapy Lamp
Voraiya® Light Therapy Lamp — $42.00

This lamp can provide 360° degree, UV-free, 10,000 LUX light and, with its moon shape, can pass as a decorative lamp on any table, desk, or night stand. Ufimtsev adds that it’s convenient to use because it includes a timer (10–90 minutes) and memory function. There are four brightness levels and three color temperatures that you can all control with a wireless remote, from up to 15m.

Pros:

  • 10,000 LUX
  • Remote control
  • Adjustable brightness and color temperatures
  • Built-in timer

Cons:

  • Need to sit close to the lamp
  • Small
Northern Light Technologies Boxelite
Northern Light Technologies Boxelite — $190.00

With a large screen (12″ x 17″), you can sit further away from the lamp, up to 14″, and still enjoy the benefits of 10,000 LUX light. The light used is UV-free, full spectrum light, and the minimalist metal frame means it can complement the rest of your desk decor.

Pros:

  • 10,000 LUX at up to 14″
  • UV-free
  • Large screen

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Not adjustable
Carex Sunlite Bright Light Therapy Lamp
Carex Sunlite Bright Light Therapy Lamp — $45.00

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. It also doubles as a desk lamp.

Pros:

  • 10,000 LUX at 10″
  • Blocks UV
  • Compact

Cons:

  • Unit gets hot while in use
Carex Day-Light Sky Bright Light Therapy Lamp
Carex Day-Light Sky Bright Light Therapy Lamp — $116.00

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 so you can adjust the light to shine on you at a downward angle.

Pros:

  • 10,000 LUX at 12″
  • Glare-free and flicker-free LEDs
  • Adjustable stand
  • Blocks UV

Cons:

  • Stand is plastic
Alaska Northern Lights Northstar
Alaska Northern Lights Northstar — $300.00

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.

Pros:

  • 10,000 LUX at 24″
  • Can be used horizontally or vertically
  • UV-free

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Bulky design
TheraLite Light Therapy Lamp
TheraLite Light Therapy Lamp — $35.00

The lux output of this light is 10,000 at 8.5 inches, and the screen is adjustable so that it can be used horizontally or vertically. It’s affordable light therapy lamp with full-spectrum light and 3000K color temperature. It’s compact in size you can bring it on the go.

Pros:

  • 10,000 LUX
  • Heigh and angle-adjustable
  • Blocks UV
  • Compact

Cons:

  • Very bright, and only has one light setting
Northern Light Technologies Flamingo Light Therapy Floor Lamp
Northern Light Technologies Flamingo Light Therapy Floor Lamp — $230.00

If you’re low on counter space, try this four foot standing lamp. It has UV-blocked, 10,000 lux of diffuse light and a large screen. It also has a rotating head so you can customize the angle while it’s at the recommended 12-inches away from your face.

Pros:

  • 10,000 LUX at 12″
  • Stands four feet fall
  • Rotating head
  • UV filter

Cons:

  • Only one height setting
Circadian Optics Light Therapy Lamp
Circadian Optics Light Therapy Lamp — $50.00

This compact lamp is easy-to-use, with a simple button that turns it on and off and adjusts to three brightness levels. The lamp uses UV-free LEDs to provide 10,000 LUX light and has an adjustable hinge so you can position it in different ways.

Pros:

  • 10,000 LUX at 12″
  • Adjustable hinge and brightness
  • UV filter

Cons:

  • Smaller screen
Northern Light Technologies Boxelite-OS
Northern Light Technologies Boxelite-OS — $205.00

This box boasts a large screen with UV-blocked, 10,000 LUX light. It has metal legs to elevate the screen as well as five different elevation settings, with a maximum height of 25″. Knobs allow you to adjust the angle of the screen up or down, and you can sit up to 14″ away and still get the full effect.

Pros:

  • 10,000 LUX at 14″
  • Adjustable panel angle
  • Five elevation settings

Cons:

  • Bulky in size
TheraLite Aura Bright Light Therapy Lamp
TheraLite Aura Bright Light Therapy Lamp — $44.00

Compact and adjustable, this lamp can fit on your desktop and provides 10,000 LUX of glare-free, UV-blocked white light. The angle is adjustable and it has four different light settings, so you can use it as a regular desk lamp or for a dose of light therapy.

Pros:

  • 10,000 LUX at 12″
  • Adjustable panel angle
  • UV-blocking

Cons:

  • Smaller screen

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