While the winter months can be full of holiday cheer and snowy vibes, the colder season is also a time when many people navigate seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of seasonal depression. SAD lamps, also called light therapy lamps, sunlight lamps and light boxes, are a common treatment option.
Do SAD Lamps Work?
SAD lamps are sources of bright light that range from 300 to 10,000 lux (lux measure the light intensity), and mimic natural outdoor light; they are thought to affect the brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, according to the Mayo Clinic.
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Per the Mayo Clinic, light therapy lamps are used to treat the following conditions:
- Jet lag
- Other types of depression that don't occur seasonally
- Sleep disorders or adjusting to working at night
A 2017 review in The Einstein Journal of Biology and Medicine looked at the history of light therapy treatment for SAD beginning in the 1980s until the time of publication and noted that light therapy has been effective in reducing and even reversing symptoms of SAD in several studies.
Light therapy is most effective when done first thing in the morning, right after you wake up, according to the Mayo Clinic. You can expect to see an improvement in your mood in two to four days if you use a 10,000 lux light for about 30 minutes every morning, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The Best Light Therapy Lamps for SAD
- Best Overall: Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Bright Light Therapy Lamp ($133.99, Amazon)
- Best on a Budget: Miracle LED Boost Morning Wake Up Light ($14.52, Amazon)
- Best Desk Lamp: TheraLite Aura Bright Light Therapy Lamp ($71.99, Amazon)
- Best Floor Lamp: Lavish Home Sunlight Floor Lamp ($39.95, Amazon)
- Best Alarm Clock: Kairiow Gentle Sunrise Light ($49.99)
- Best Compact: Verilux HappyLight VT10 Compact Personal ($29.99, Amazon)
- Best for Personalization: Verilux HappyLight Luxe ($69.99, Amazon)
- Most Powerful: Alaska Northern Lights Northstar 10,000 ($299.77, Amazon)
How We Choose
We tapped a psychotherapist and dug into the research around SAD lamps to find out exactly what to look for in these products. The products below fit these criteria:
- Designed to treat SAD
- Bright light
- UV filter
- Convenient size and style
1. Best Overall: Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Bright Light Therapy Lamp
Thanks to the broad surface of the Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Bright Light Therapy Lamp, you won't have to sit close to the lamp in order to experience its benefits. The LED Brightzone technology delivers 10,000 lux of glare-free, white light from up to a foot away.
The lamp has two light settings, an adjustable height and angle and claims to block 99.3 percent of UV rays. It's designed to help treat SAD, improve your sleep, increase your energy and even help you recover from jet lag.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $140.99
2. Best on a Budget: Miracle LED Boost Morning Wake Up Light
An LED light bulb designed to be used for SAD can be a cost-effective way to give light therapy a try. The Miracle LED Boost Morning Wake Up Light comes in a two-pack for under $15 and can be used in most standard light fixtures.
These bulbs have been designed to mimic the color of the sun when it is at its afternoon peak. They may be a good option for getting more light to help ease your SAD symptoms or helping you to feel more alert in the mornings in general.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $13.64 for a two-pack
3. Best Desk Lamp: TheraLite Aura Bright Light Therapy Lamp
The TheraLite Aura Bright Light Therapy Lamp offers light therapy and task lighting all in one. It provides 10,000 lux of glare- and UV-free white light, with an adjustable height and angle so you can get work done and also lift your mood.
There are four different light settings and 168 energy-efficient LED lights, so you can adjust the lamp according to your needs.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $71.99
4. Best Floor Lamp: Lavish Home Sunlight Floor Lamp
The Lavish Home Sunlight Floor Lamp is effective in rooms over 350 square feet, according to the manufacturer. It features a 27-watt compact fluorescent bulb that emits as much light as a 150-watt bulb but uses less energy and can last up to 5,000 hours.
The flexible gooseneck lets you adjust the light wherever you need it, and the lamp produces full-spectrum bright, white light that can help to reduce eye strain and fatigue.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $39.95
5. Best Alarm Clock: Kairiow Gentle Sunrise Light
While you may not always naturally rise with the sun, the Kairiow Gentle Sunrise Light may be the next best thing. It features 20 adjustable light levels and a wind-down mode that mimics a sunset in order to help you prepare for bed. You can also customize the sunrise simulator to increase in intensity within 10 to 60 minutes after you wake up.
And because sound can play an important part in waking up and sleeping, you can select an FM radio station or choose from one of the light's seven alarm or sleep sounds to help you start and end your day. It should fit easily on your nightstand or bedside table and has built-in USB charging ports if you like to keep your devices close by.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $49.99
6. Best Compact: Verilux HappyLight VT10 Compact Personal
Light therapy lamps can be expensive and take up quite a bit of space, but the Verilux HappyLight VT10 Compact Personal model is compact and budget-friendly. It uses UV-free, full-spectrum light and a light intensity of 10,000 lux, which is the maximum recommended dose for effective light therapy.
This lamp features a sleek and fuss-free design with a simple on/off button and uses Flicker Elimination technology and Optix Glare-Control lighting to help reduce eyestrain and eye fatigue. And it's perfect for travel or using in spaces throughout your home, because it weighs less than 2 pounds.
Use it within four hours of waking up or after lunch for 10 to 15 minutes as an afternoon pick-me-up, per the manufacturer's recommendation.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $29.99
7. Best for Personalization: Verilux HappyLight Luxe
Not only is the Verilux HappyLight Luxe aesthetically pleasing (it comes in three different finishes), it also offers a highly customizable light therapy experience. You can choose between four different brightness levels, three color temperature options and a programmable countdown timer.
Use it for a few minutes on the highest setting when you need a quick dose of mood-boosting light and set it to a lower, anti-glare setting when you want a less intense experience.
The portable design makes this a great at-home or travel option, thanks to the detachable stand and wall mount.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $69.99
8. Most Powerful: Alaska Northern Lights Northstar 10,000
The Alaska Northern Lights Northstar 10,000 is the most expensive but also the most powerful pick on this list. This device provides 10,000 lux up to 2 feet away and has a comfortable low-glare prismatic light diffuser to help protect your eyes. Unlike other SAD lamps, you can sit a good distance away and still get the light you need for a mood pick-me-up.
It also has a carrying handle in case you want to use it in different rooms throughout your home. And the large surface area is capable of delivering light to more than one person at a time.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $299.77
What to Look for in a SAD Lamp
You don't need a prescription for a SAD lamp, and it's important to note that they aren't approved or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So you want to make sure you're making an informed purchase.
Also keep in mind that SAD lamps often work best in combination with other treatment recommendations for SAD. "In general, be mindful of other health factors and supplement light therapy with vitamin D, getting outside, working out and eating a balanced diet," Ani Kalayjian, EdD, psychotherapist and author of Forget Me Not: 7 Steps for Healing Our Body, Mind, Spirit, and Mother Earth, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Per the Mayo Clinic, some additional things to consider when buying a SAD lamp are:
1. Is It Made Specifically to Treat SAD?
Make sure that the light you purchase is actually made to help treat SAD. Some light therapy lamps are made to treat skin disorders and emit UV light, which could damage your eyes.
2. How Bright Is It?
SAD lamps have varying levels of brightness: The brighter the light, the less time you have to sit in front of it. A light intensity of 10,000 lux is typically recommended.
3. Can It Cause Eye Damage?
To avoid damaging your eyes while using a SAD lamp, look for one that filters out all or most UV light. Many SAD lamps have built-in eye-protection features.
4. Is It the Style You Need?
SAD lamps are meant for daily use, so choosing a style that is convenient for you is best. Do you need a SAD lamp that doubles as a desk lamp, or would a floor lamp better suit your space?
5. Can You Put It in the Right Location?
You want to make sure you place your SAD lamp at the manufacturer's recommended distance. Also consider what activities you might do while using your SAD lamp, like reading and working, and make sure that it can be placed in the right location.
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