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- Best adjustable SAD lamp: Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Light Therapy Lamp
- Best UV-free SAD lamp: Northern Light Technologies Boxelite
- Best portable SAD lamp: Circadian Optics Lattis Light Therapy Lamp
- Best SAD lamp for leisure: Flamingo Floor Lamp
- Best affordable SAD lamp: TaoTronics Light Therapy Lamp
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), now known clinically as major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns, is a condition that causes sadness or depression when the seasons change.
It most typically occurs during the fall and winter, when days become short and exposure to sunlight decreases. It’s most common in women and young adults.
Counseling, therapy, and medication may all be effective for this condition. Light boxes — also referred to as SAD lamps or light therapy lamps — are another option that can reduce symptoms and provide relief. They work by replicating natural daylight.
Symptoms of SAD
There are two types of SAD: wintertime and summertime. SAD affects people differently, but the symptoms may vary based on the type of SAD.
Symptoms of wintertime SAD include:
- daytime fatigue
- difficulty concentrating
- feelings of hopelessness
- increased irritability
- lack of interest in social activities
- reduced sexual interest
- weight gain
Symptoms of summertime SAD include:
- difficulty sleeping
- increased restlessness
- lack of appetite
- weight loss
In severe cases, people with SAD may experience thoughts of suicide.
Treatment options for SAD
Counseling and therapy are treatment options for both forms of SAD. Some people may also benefit from medications such as antidepressants such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and bupropion (Wellbutrin). People experiencing SAD should speak to their doctor about which medication is the best course of treatment.
Light therapy can also be used as a treatment for wintertime SAD. This involves using a specialized light box or visor for at least 30 minutes each day to mimic natural light. Light therapy should only be used under a doctor’s supervision and on approved devices. Other light-emitting sources like tanning beds, are not safe for use.
Another type of treatment is a dawn simulator which uses a time-activated light to mimic the sunrise as a way to help stimulate the body’s clock.
Adopting some healthy lifestyle habits can also help minimize SAD symptoms. This can include:
- a balanced diet with lean protein, fruits, and vegetables
- regular sleep
Keep in mind
If you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
We chose the options on this list based on the following criteria:
- Intensity: All the picks on this list have at least 10,000 lux, the
standard intensity for effectiveness.
- Reputation: Each SAD lamp we feature comes from a reputable brand that doesn’t make egregious health claims.
- Price: We were mindful of different budgets by including options from various price points.
- User reviews: We chose only highly rated options that current users love and don’t have any major complaints about.
- $ = under $100
- $$ = $100–$200
- $$$ = over $200
Best adjustable SAD lamp
- Price: $$
- Features: flexible stand, 2 light settings, glare-free for eye comfort
- Size of light panel: 15.5 x 13.5 inches
- Who it’s best for: anyone looking for a customizable lamp that can work well in any space, at any angle
- Lux: 10,000
This lamp has a large surface area of 15.5 by 13.5 inches. It generates 10,000 lux and projects light in a downward motion — this helps keep it glare-free no matter how it’s positioned.
The lampstand is adjustable, so chances are it will be comfortable to use no matter your height or chair type. Users say the lampstand doesn’t wobble and that the lamp reaches full lumens quickly for maximum benefit.
- large surface area
Best UV-free SAD lamp
- Price: $$
- Features: full-spectrum UV-free light, 5 different height levels, adjustable
- Size of light panel: 12.25 x 17 inches
- Who it’s best for: those who like to sit further away from the light source (it’s effective at 14 inches)
- Lux: 10,000
In addition to features such as 10,000 lux and a large surface screen, this SAD lamp is designed to last. Many users rave about it 7 or more years after purchase.
The lamp includes long lasting fluorescent bulbs and is UV-free. It also features five different height levels and is easily adjustable. Note that it weighs 11 pounds and is heavier than many other lamps.
- long lasting
- heavier than other options on our list
Best portable SAD lamp
- Price: $
- Features: 3 brightness levels, fixed position, one-touch operation
- Size of light panel: 6 x 15.75 inches
- Who it’s best for: those who want their light to blend in a little better with their decor
- Lux: 10,000
If you love the look of modern decor, this lamp may be right for you. It features 10,000 lux of LED, UV-free, full-spectrum white light. It also boasts three brightness levels, so you can uptick or downtick the amount of light you receive.
Many users prefer LED to fluorescent light because it lasts longer. This lamp has a small surface area and a fixed position, which doesn’t allow for adjustment. Even so, it may be great for small spaces or as a lamp for travel.
- stylish look
- 3 brightness levels
- much larger than other options
- may not be everyone’s taste
Best SAD lamp for leisure
- Price: $$
- Features: adjustable, rotating head, taller than most
- Size of light panel: 7 x 13 inches
- Who it’s best for: anyone who’s looking for a little more versatility in where they can get their light therapy
- Lux: 10,000
This 46-inch-tall lamp is a great option for those who want to position their SAD lamp near a treadmill or glider. It also fits neatly into corners for use while reading or watching TV.
This floor lamp provides 10,000 lux of full-spectrum, UV-free, LED light. It’s also glare-free and adjustable. Users love the sturdy design and long lasting light bulbs, which typically last for about 5 years. Assembly is required.
- full-spectrum LED light
- comes with long lasting light bulbs
- assembly required
Best affordable SAD lamp
- Price: $
- Features: timer, 4 brightness levels, memory function
- Size of light panel: 5.5 x 5.5 inches
- Who it’s best for: anyone looking for a compact option and doesn’t mind sitting closer to the panel
- Lux: 10,000
While this portable option has a smaller screen size than recommended, it still delivers good value for its size and cost.
Designed for on-the-go use, this lamp provides 10,000 lux and one-touch controls.
- one-touch controls
- might be too small for some users
|Who it’s best for
|Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Light Therapy Lamp
|anyone looking for a customizable lamp that can work well in any space, at any angle
|adjustable, but always faces in a downward position to reduce glare
|Northern Light Technologies Boxelite
|those who like to sit further away from the light source (it’s effective at 14 inches)
|adjustable and has a larger light panel so you can sit further away
|Circadian Optics Lattis Light Therapy Lamp
|those who want their light to blend in a little better with their decor
|blends well with decor but has a fixed position and doesn’t adjust
|Flamingo Floor Lamp
|anyone looking for a little more versatility in where they can get their light therapy
|light angle is adjustable but not the height
|TaoTronics Light Therapy Lamp
|anyone looking for a compact option and doesn’t mind sitting closer to the panel
|compact, but you have to sit closer to the light panel since it’s smaller than others on the list
A SAD lamp uses light therapy to replicate sunlight. It can trick the body into thinking it is a warmer month and cause the body to release serotonin.
The light produced by a SAD lamp is measured in lux. A lux is a measurement of light intensity combined with area. A SAD lamp should offer a brightness of 10,000 lux. The viewing angle of a lamp should allow it to be positioned above the eyes and at a slight downward angle to minimize glare.
Typically, SAD lamps or lights should be used for 30 minutes to an hour. They can be used at any time of day, although they’re usually used first thing in the morning.
SAD lamps are not regulated by the FDA.
SAD lamps simulate sunlight, which helps trigger the brain to release serotonin, often called the feel-good hormone.
Studies show that using light therapy during periods when daylight hours are short can help adjust your circadian rhythm, the body’s process for regulating your sleep-wake cycle. This is beneficial for improving mood and reducing symptoms of depression.
Light therapy has become an accepted practice for alleviating SAD and other conditions such as:
There are many lamps and light boxes marketed as SAD or light therapy lamps. Not all of these products are effective or appropriate for this use.
The FDA doesn’t regulate SAD lamps, so it’s important to buy one that provides enough light and is designed to treat SAD.
Here are some features to look for:
- Don’t get a light box that’s designed to treat skin conditions. These devices aren’t meant to treat mood disorders and they won’t be effective.
- Make sure the lamp filters out ultraviolet (UV) light and is labeled UV-free. UV light can damage your eyes and skin.
- Follow the instructions supplied by the manufacturers.
- Use eye protection if you have existing eye issues.
- The lamp should generate 10,000 lux of cool-white, fluorescent light. An output of 10,000 lux is approximately 20 times greater than the light output generated by most indoor lighting. Lamps with less lux may need to be used more often than brighter ones.
- Opt for a glare-free lamp or a lamp that can be positioned at a downward angle that reduces or eliminates eye glare.
- Look for a lamp with a light surface area of around 12 by 15 inches. The larger the surface area, the higher the lux. Larger lamps also provide you with the option of moving around more, so you can be farther away from the lamp without compromising its effectiveness.
- Smaller lamps aren’t as effective and may need to be used more often for longer sessions. That said, you may wish to purchase a second, smaller lamp if you travel a lot. Your doctor can provide individualized lamp use guidelines.
Personal style and needs
- Think about what activity you would like to do while using the lamp and purchase one that will accommodate that purpose. For example, light boxes have been
shownto help with jet lag. So, if you travel frequently, you may want to choose a small, portable option.
- Lamp styles vary. You may be better off getting an attractive lamp that matches your décor so it can stay in position for use. For maximum benefit, you’ll want to use the lamp at least once daily, so having it out and easily accessible can be a plus.
- Don’t start using a SAD lamp without your doctor’s approval: This is especially important if you have a diagnosis such as bipolar disorder, glaucoma, or lupus.
- Always get the green light from your doctor if you’re taking prescription medications of any kind, including antipsychotics and antidepressants: Remember that some prescription medications and over-the-counter supplements can make your skin photosensitive, requiring an adjustment to your use of the lamp. These medications include lithium, some acne drugs, and St. John’s wort.
- Use the lamp daily: You can use it until daylight hours increase.
- Experiment with time frame: Many people benefit from as little as 20 minutes of use. Others require 60 minutes, which is typically considered the highest exposure you should get. However, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and slowly increase the amount of time spent in front of a SAD lamp. Avoid exceeding more than 60 minutes of use.
- Consider when to use it: Many experts recommend using a SAD lamp first thing in the morning. Your doctor might also recommend that you use it during the day. Keep in mind that more isn’t always better. Overuse of a SAD lamp can produce insomnia or other side effects.
- Follow manufacturer recommendations for the position: Your lamp should come with recommendations for how close you should position yourself to it. This is very important, as your distance from it will affect the lamp’s lux capacity.
- Position the lamp so that it’s providing you with downward light: This will ensure that it doesn’t shine directly into your eyes.
- Talk with your doctor about how to best stop using the lamp: It may be most appropriate for you to wean yourself off slowly. Spending time outdoors, especially in the mornings, can help this process.
Although light therapy
Some studies show that SAD lamps can help boost mood and alleviate symptoms of seasonal depression, but they’re not a substitute for proper mental health care. If you feel that your depression is severe or you experience any of the following symptoms, it’s time to speak with a healthcare professional. Check in with a doctor or mental health professional if:
- You feel sad and hopeless nearly every day.
- You no longer experience pleasure in hobbies or activities you used to enjoy.
- You can’t sleep or are spending too much time sleeping.
- You’re feeling irritated and annoyed nearly every day.
- Symptoms are interfering with your quality of life.
- You’re gaining or losing weight unexpectedly.
Can SAD lamps damage your skin or eyes?
UV light should be filtered out of SAD lamps, so they shouldn’t damage your eyes or skin. However, light boxes used to treat certain skin conditions do emit UV light, so you should be sure that your light box is designed to treat SAD.
Can SAD lamps increase vitamin D levels?
While some people have found that SAD lamps can increase vitamin D levels over time, there’s not enough research to confirm this. Vitamin D is produced by UV light, and most SAD lamps don’t have that.
How bright are SAD lamps?
The recommended brightness for SAD lamps is typically 10,000 lux.
How long does it take a SAD lamp to start working?
The University of British Columbia found that people can start to respond to light therapy within a few days and you should see improvements within 2 weeks. Be sure to speak to your doctor if your body does not respond to a SAD lamp after 2 weeks.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t use a SAD lamp?
You should avoid using a SAD lamp if you have an increased sensitivity to light. This may be due to:
- macular degeneration
- a connective tissue disorder
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SAD can often be alleviated with proactive lifestyle changes. These include:
- going to bed early and waking up at or near dawn
- going outside for extended periods of time, especially first thing in the morning
- avoiding substances that can adversely affect your ability to sleep, such as alcohol
- eating whole, nutrient-rich foods
- seeking out professional help from a counselor or therapist
How to find a therapist for seasonal affective disorder
SAD can bring up serious feelings of depression, so consider talking with a mental health professional.
You don’t need to have received a SAD diagnosis to seek out help, though. Even if you’re just feeling more down than usual, it’s OK to talk with a therapist or counselor.
When looking for a mental health professional, you’ll want to specifically search for someone who has experience treating SAD, major depressive disorder, or depressive episodes.
Major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern, previously known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a condition caused by lowered exposure to sunlight or a change of seasons. Women and young adults are most affected by this condition.
Using a SAD lamp, also known as a light box, can help alleviate symptoms, boosting your mood.
SAD lamps can be effective when used as a solo treatment or combined with other forms of treatment. Either way, always use these lamps under a doctor’s supervision.