It sucks when it gets cold outside, and you have to spend half an hour motivating yourself to get bundled up to go anywhere. Those cold wet guards (my poetic name for the massive piles of dirty snow) keep you in your home like a prisoner subsisting solely on hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps. The holidays take away some of the sting for most of us, but the short days of the long winter can really weigh on a person as the season wears on.
Does this sound familiar? According to Brains Reports’ Department of Nonsense Statistics, 95% of the cases of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are self-diagnosed. It’s natural for us to have mood swings as the seasons change. But, SAD is a real DSM-IV-TR, diagnosed-by-a-doctor condition that can seriously disrupt one’s life. If winter consists of nonstop physical exhaustion that is tearing you apart, then, and only then, you should consider a light therapy lamp.
Consult with a Physician
I have a master’s degree, but I’m no doctor. The only person who can tell you if you have SAD is a real, grown doctor. And, it is only with their supervision that you should consider getting a light therapy lamp, which is also called a SAD lamp, SAD sunlight lamp, light therapy box, and the indoor sun (but only by me).
I consulted with the Mayo Clinic, and they advise you to listen to a doctor when it comes to how long you use your lightbox. If you increase your time too quickly, you may induce manic symptoms. You should also talk to your eye doctor, commonly known as an optometrist or ophthalmologist, if you have eye damage from diabetes, cataracts, glaucoma, or other problems with your peepers.
There’s Nothing Funny about SAD Lamps
If you go through all of the above steps and your doc advises you to get a SAD lamp, then you are legally allowed to continue reading this. In the winter, our circadian rhythms, which regulate our sleep-wake cycle, drift later as the dawn comes later (and the days get shorter.) This throws us all out of whack. Alfred Lewy, the dude who discovered that light helps, described it as like having jet lag for five months. But, when you introduce morning bright-light exposure, your rhythms get back into…um…rhythm.
The first-line treatment for SAD continues to be bright light therapy. However, not just any old lighting will do. You must use lights that are bright enough to produce changes in your circadian physiology. Fortunately, light therapy lamps are designed to supply such lighting.
Questions You Should Ask Yourself Out Loud
When searching for the perfect light box lamp, there are a few factors you should consider:
- Will It Work Where I Need It? Take yourself on a journey of the mind. Where do you think you’ll want to put the lamp? What will you be doing while you use it? Maybe, you’ll read a book. Or, perhaps, you will use the lamp while picking lint out of your belly button. To ensure you get the right amount of light at the right distance, look at the specifications of the lamp and compare it to your lint-picking room.
- Does It Release UV Light? Most or all UV light should be filtered out by SAD sunlight lamps. If you are not able to find this information, put the manufacturer under the interrogation lamp.
- How Intense Is the Light? There are different intensities of light from different light therapy lamps. You can achieve the same effect in less time with a brighter box than with their dimmer counterparts. 10,000 lux is generally the suggested intensity.
- Is the Lamp Designed for SAD People? There are light therapy lamps that are made for people with skin disorders. We don’t cover those in this guide. We’re keeping it strictly SAD, but if you want a product that isn’t in this guide, make sure it’s designed for SAD folks.
How Much Do These Bad Boys Cost?
I kind of promised Amazon that I wouldn’t list prices for different products. And, if you’ve ever let items hang out in your cart for long, you know how quickly their prices change anyway. Alas, I have created this guide to give you a rough estimate of how much the following lamps cost:
- $ = about $30 to $61.99
- $$ = about $62 to $99.99
- $$$ = about $100 to $160
Now that you know a little about these SAD treatment lamps, here are Brains Report’s picks for the top 9 best light therapy lamps:
- Blocks UV light
- Comes with two no-glare lenses for pleasure and high energy
- Energy-efficient bulb produces 300 watts of natural spectrum daylight with 36 watts power
The Verilux HappyLight Liberty 10,000 checks all the right boxes: it’s UV-free, 10,000 lux, and small enough to put in just about any space that has approximately 2” by 6” by 13” of clearance. It works well when you are watching Floribama Shore, reading The Art of the Deal, or working at your desk (but not when working elsewhere.) Many users bought this lamp with skepticism only to have their socks blown off by how well it works. We recommend not using it too late in the afternoon because, much like with coffee, you may have trouble sleeping.
- 5,000 lux
- Weighs 1.5 pounds, so not ideal for dumbbell workouts
- 3” by 3” by 7.4”
Verilux bills this light therapy energy lamp as “portable,” but isn’t everything portable if you’re motivated enough? This lamp only produces 5,000 lux so you’ll need to use it for longer sessions. And, though it’s portable, you need to plug it into a wall outlet to operate it. Still, you will not find a better light at this price point. The HappyLight Liberty Portable is the most affordable option on our list. Users report that this is a good supplemental light when traveling or away from the home, but for more severe SAD, a 10,000-lux light is preferable.
- Filters 99.3% of UV
- Kind of big at 27” by 14” by 10.5”
- Has settings for general task lighting and therapy lighting
Verilux is the top name in light therapy lamps, but Carex Health Brands is right there with them. The Day-Light Sky lamp utilizes “BrightZone Technology.” It uses two 55-watt CFL tube bulbs and comes with a five-year limited warranty. Verified purchasers report that this lamp is sturdy, keeps you energized after half an hour of use, and it is easy on the eyes, if you know what I mean (it has a non-glare lens.) If you are looking for a lamp that will double as a task light, this is your best option.
- Uses 3 36-watt CFL light tubes
- 5-year limited warranty
- Height and angle adjustable
Carex Health Brands is based in South Dakota, and they’ve been providing in-home, self-care medical products for more than 35 years. The Day-Light Classic Plus is incredibly similar to the Day-Light Sky light above. The differences are the types of bulbs used, this lamp is about $30 cheaper, and the Classic Plus does not have as good of ratings. Nonetheless, buyers report that within a few days of using this each morning for half an hour, they felt as if a switch was flipped in their brain. A good switch. That made them feel better about life. Pro tip: position your lamp so it is shining down on you (like the sun.)
- Uses 72 LEDs that only consume 7.2 watts and are rated for over two decades
- Variable intensity levels
- Programmable timer for 15, 30, and 45 minutes
The Sphere Gadget Technologies Lightphoria has a lot of cool features, including a timer and variable intensity levels. Plus, it comes with a one-year warranty. So, why is it so far down the list? This device is incredibly small (6” by 6.5” by 1”.) For maximum effectiveness, it needs to be 12 to 18 inches away from you. And, to get it in a position where the light is shining down on you, you really have to rig it right. However, it is bright. We should probably warn you never to stare at your light therapy box.
- 10,000 lux
- LED with 50,000-hour lifespan
- Three hinges in light panel, top, and base for easy configurability
Before recommending light therapy lamps, doctors typically suggest that sufferers of SAD get more light the natural way: from the sun. So, Dr. Brains suggests you try going for dawn walks to wake up your mind in the morning. If that doesn’t work, then try products like the Circadian Optics Lumos 2.0. Some scientist used a light meter to test this at eight inches, they found it actually emits 5,200 lux, which was among the best in its price range.
- High/low output setting
- 5” by 6.5” by 12”
- Verilux claims this is backed by their “reputation for customer service” (from what we’ve read, the reputation is positive)
Situated where the sun don’t shine (Waitsfield, Vermont), Verilux is the top name in light therapy lamps. They’ve been at it for more than 60 years. So, they predate the science of light therapy’s effectiveness. We’ve included four of their lamps on our list because they got game. The 7.5K LUX is low on our list because there are 10K solutions that cost less. Still, customers report this is effective for treating SAD. On an unrelated note, from all of the reviews we’ve combed through for this guide, we can make three conclusions: SAD sufferers love cats, cats also have SAD, and cats are drawn to light therapy boxes.
- Verilux’s most powerful lamp
- Uses “Flicker Elimination Technology”
The Verilux HappyLight Deluxe is so bright her dad calls her “Sonny.” This is the most expensive option on our list, and we think you can get the same effects from more affordable alternatives. Buyers report head and eye aches after longer periods of time in front of this light, but you shouldn’t spend more than half an hour in front of it. Also, you might want to avoid exposing family members who don’t suffer from SAD to it. It might make them manic, and that can get annoying.
9. Aura® Day Light Therapy Lamp – $$$
- 10,000 lux
- 2-year warranty
By the way, light therapy lamps are not designed to serve you up a dose of vitamin D. This vitamin is found in UV rays, which light boxes should block out (for your safety.) Take a pill for vitamin D (with physician guidance.) Buyers like the Aura Day Light Therapy Lamp because it has a timer for ten-minute intervals from 10 to 60 minutes.
There. I wrote a whole review about SAD sunlight lamps without mentioning the “winter blues.” Do you know someone who suffers from SAD? Tell them to cheer up (because that always works), and share this guide with them!