Chase away the winter blues with a SAD light therapy lamp
Whether you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or you just dread the long, dark days of winter, a therapy lamp is purported to help those of us who live farther from the equator. Mimicking the sun’s positive effects, these 10,000 LUX (the SI unit of illuminance, equal to one lumen per square meter) lamps can perk you up and help you feel more energized. Here are some of the best light therapy lamps you can buy.
Best Overall: Verilux HappyLight Luxe
This luxe lamp has all the options you might need. The light surface measures roughly six inches across and nine inches tall. You can set a timer to run the lamp anywhere from five to 60 minutes in five-minute increments, and you can even pause it during your session. Choose from four brightness levels and three different color temperatures. You can place it on the included stand for a slightly upward-facing angle, or hang it on a wall.
- Good-sized light with small footprint
- Four brightness levels
- Three color temperatures
- Five- to 60-minute timer
- Can mount on the wall or place in stand
- Stand is limited to one angle
Verilux HappyLight Luxe
Choose your brightness level, color temperature, and session time with a touch of a button.
Best Value: TaoTronics Light Therapy Lamp
This small but effective lamp doesn’t take up much room on your desk, but it emits a cool-toned 10,000 LUX of light at maximum power. You can control this lamp with a touch control near the top or a button control near the bottom. Cycle through low (25%), medium (50%), and high. (100%) light brightness settings. When you turn the lamp on, it will automatically remember and go to your last-used setting. The light itself is about six inches in diameter and is angled to point up at the user.
- Takes up little space
- Three brightness levels
- Goes with most decor
- No adjustability for height or angle
TaoTronics Light Therapy Lamp
This small, round lamp with three brightness levels will look good with any decor.
Best Deluxe Model: Carex Day-Light Lamp
This big lamp takes up a large footprint on your desk or table, but the larger screen means you don’t have to sit as close (manufacturer recommends 12 to 14 inches) to reap the benefits and the full 10,000 LUX of light. The arm that holds the light adjusts for both height and angle so you can position it just right, though it is meant to point down at the user. The base is weighted, so your lamp won’t tip over — the three-way switch toggles between 10,000 LUX, off, and 5,000 LUX. The light has a warmer tone to it, and the surface area of the light measures 15.5 inches wide and 13 inches high.
- Large surface area more effective from farther away
- Adjustable height and angle
- Two brightness levels
- Large footprint
Best Deluxe Model
Carex Day-Light Lamp
Bigger is better
If portability isn’t an issue, a larger lamp like this truly bathes you in light.
Best Desk Lamp: TheraLite Aura
Medium in both size and weight, the light itself measures roughly 11 inches wide and 7.5 inches high. It emits a warmer-toned light, and the brightness can be adjusted by the “-” and “+” buttons on either side of the power button. The height is not adjustable, but the angle is. This lamp is meant to point down onto the viewer like the sun. My daughter uses this one as a desk lamp, due to its size and shape.
- Not too bulky
- Adjustable brightness
- Adjustable angle
- Larger light surface
- Not height-adjustable
Best Desk Lamp
This adjustable-angle lamp points down at you like the sun.
Best CFL Model: Verilux HappyLight Compact
This tiny box-style lamp has a CFL bulb inside and a lens that measures just over 4.5 by 4.5 inches. Its tiny footprint won’t take up much space on your desk, and in fact, this is the very lamp that the doctor I spoke with uses herself. CFL bulbs are just as effective as LED bulbs, but will need to be replaced eventually, and LED bulbs will not. Still, if you prefer CFL over LED bulbs, this is a nicely-priced option.
- Tried and true
- CFL bulbs burn out
Best CFL Model
Verilux HappyLight Compact
This small, square box lamp has no bells or whistles, but it does the job.
Artsiest: Circadian Optics Bright Light Therapy Lamp Lattis Edition
This little lamp looks like a Piet Mondrian or Frank Lloyd Wright creation. While the lens is only about 2.5 inches wide and eight inches high, the lamp is a little bigger because of its decorative elements. Still, it has a tiny footprint, perfect for smaller spaces. It has three brightness levels that you cycle through with a touch of the button on the back.
- Looks like an art piece
- Three brightness levels
- Tiny footprint
- No adjustability for height or angle
- Small light surface
Circadian Optics Bright Light Therapy Lamp Lattis Edition
Looking something you’d see in an art museum, this tiny wonder has three levels of brightness.
Best Travel Lamp: Circadian Optics Bright Light Therapy Lamp Lumos Edition
This flexible little wand-like lamp has a light surface area of roughly 6.25 by 1.5 inches. Tap the power button to cycle through three brightness levels. The flexible arm lets you adjust the angle 180 degrees. You can also turn the base around, and use it on a desk or mounted to a wall. It would be great for travel because it can be folded up, so the light is protected.
- Flexible angles
- Use on a desk or mount to the wall
- Three brightness levels
- Tiny light surface area
Best Travel Lamp
Circadian Optics Bright Light Therapy Lamp Lumos Edition
On the go
This tiny, flexible wand-like lamp folds up to protect the light surface in your suitcase.
Best Natural Wake-up: Philips Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock
While this is not a 10,000 LUX SAD/light therapy lamp like the others in this article, it may be a more soothing alternative for people who find bright lights too harsh but still want to add some “sun” to their dark winters. This bedside lamp mimics the action of the sun for a relaxing sunset bedtime wind-down and a gentle, gradual sunrise wake-up. In addition to the simulated sunrise, you’ll also wake to your choice of sounds: Bird Song, Birds in the forest, Zen Garden, Gentle piano, and Seaside Sounds. My colleague Adam uses this lamp and loves it.
- Easier wake-up
- Mimics sunset and sunrise
- Gentle light and sound alarm clock
- Only 300 LUX, so not a true therapy lamp
Best Natural Wake-up
Philips Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock
Not bright enough to be a true therapy lamp, this alarm clock mimics the sunrise to wake you up gently.
Choosing between lamps comes down to personal preference. Think about what features you need and your preferences on size and appearance. Do you need varying brightness levels, and is a timer important? Do you need adjustable height and angles, or will you be traveling with it? Is price a factor?
Once you’ve narrowed down your must-have features, you can’t go wrong with any of the choices on this list. I use the Verilux HappyLight Luxe; it’s my favorite because of the timer you can set to shut itself off automatically. I also like that you can adjust the brightness level and even the color from warmer to cooler. I haven’t hung it on the wall, but I like having that option.
What you need to know about SAD light therapy lamps
I’m not a doctor or a scientist; I recommend you speak with your doctor before using a therapy lamp. I did talk with Dr. Deepika Sastry, M.D., M.B.A., who is a psychiatrist at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center and an Assistant Professor at Case Western University Hospital Cleveland Medical Center. Dr. Sastry said,
“Bright light therapy is a very effective and well-studied treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD). I prescribe it to my patients as we have a long and often cloudy winter, and every single one has told me how much it helps their mood and energy. I use a SAD lamp myself and can vouch for its efficacy!”
While we did try out all of the lamps in this guide, it’s hard to gauge effectiveness. There are so many factors in a given day, but these have all done their job. I have been able cut back on my coffee consumption since I’ve started using these lamps, and yet have felt more energetic. Each lamp listed exudes the recommended 10,000 LUX (the SI unit of illuminance, equal to one lumen per square meter) of light except for the Philips Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock. Several sources I read specified that a bright light therapy lamp should only be used in the morning, ideally soon after you wake up. I experimented with timing and found that a half-hour of use was just about right for me.
Choosing the lamp for you
I spoke with Ann Green, VP of Marketing for Verilux about how to choose and use a light therapy lamp. “The size of the light is also a personal preference. Smaller sizes are easier to fit in a small space or take on the go. Larger sizes provide a bigger field of light, allowing you greater freedom of movement for the light to reach your eyes. Verilux recommends 20-60 minutes of light therapy per day (recommended time is a function of brightness and distance. Individual results may vary.) Researchers at the National Institute of Health demonstrated that white light, in a range of 2,500 to 10,000 lux, helped to reverse the symptoms of “Winter Blues.”
We all have a different sensitivity to light, so it is essential to find the settings, distance, and time that are comfortable for you. It is not necessary to sit in front of the lamp continuously. You can divide the time into several mini-sessions. Continue to use the lamp daily to feel an improvement in your mood and activity level. When you are feeling sluggish and lethargic, increase the brightness of the light, sit closer to the lamp and/or spend more time with the lamp. If you feel a sort of edginess, as though you have consumed too much coffee, it may be time to turn off the lamp.” The manufacturer’s instructions that come with each lamp should give you specifics on the ideal distance and angle and generally how to use your lamp most effectively.
I hope you enjoy your light therapy lamp as much as I have been, and you get the mood and energy boost you’re looking for. Have a sunny day!