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What is a sun lamp?

A sun lamp, also called a SAD lamp or light therapy box, is a special light that mimics natural outdoor light. Light therapy, also sometimes called bright light therapy, is an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD is a type of depression that occurs during the fall and winter when there are fewer hours of sunlight.

The light from a sun lamp is believed to have a positive impact on serotonin and melatonin. These chemicals help control your sleep and wake cycle. Serotonin also helps reduce anxiety and improve mood. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression.

A sun lamp is most commonly used to treat SAD, but light therapy is also used to treat other conditions, including:

  • depression
  • sleep disorders
  • dementia

Read on to learn more about these conditions and how sun lamps can help.

SAD is a type of depression that begins and ends at around the same time every year when they days become shorter. People who live far north of the equator are considerably more susceptible than those who live in sunnier climates.

SAD can cause debilitating symptoms, such as feeling depressed most of the day, low energy, and suicidal thoughts. Oversleeping and weight gain are also common signs of SAD.

Sitting in front of a sun lamp within the first hour of waking up every day can improve symptoms of SAD within a few days to a few weeks.

A 2009 study found that results may be seen as quickly as 20 minutes into the first session. Since light therapy works quickly and with minimal side effects, it’s often the first line of treatment for SAD, rather than antidepressants.

According to research, light therapy appears to improve serotonin activity and melatonin production, which improves mood and helps to restore circadian rhythms for improved sleep.

Light therapy is sometimes used to treat some types of nonseasonal depression. A 2016 study on the effectiveness of light therapy used on its own or in combination with antidepressants found that both approaches were beneficial.

Participants in the study were divided into three groups:

  • one group received light therapy and a placebo pill
  • one group received a placebo light device and an antidepressant
  • one group received an antidepressant and light therapy

Researchers found that light therapy, when used alone or combined with an antidepressant, was better able to combat depression symptoms compared to the placebo.

Bright light therapy is an effective treatment for certain sleep-wake disturbances.

Certain sleep disorders, jet lag, and shift work can upset your body’s circadian rhythm. This is your internal “body clock” that helps you be alert during daytime hours and sleep at night.

When your body’s circadian rhythm is upset, it can cause insomnia and extreme fatigue. It can also interfere with your ability to function.

Exposure to artificial light from a sun lamp during certain times can help align your circadian rhythms and improve your sleep and wake times.

Studies have found that light therapy may help treat sleep disturbances related to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Sleep disturbances are common in people with dementia and often lead to agitation and depression. Light therapy may improve these symptoms.

The effect of light therapy and the use of 24-hour lighting schemes in care facilities is also being evaluated. According to a recent study, insufficient exposure to high-intensity light during the day can negatively affect the health and well-being of residents with dementia.

It’s important to note that sun lamps for tanning and those used to treat skin disorders are not the same as those used for SAD and the other conditions mentioned in this article.

Sun lamps used for SAD filter out most or all ultraviolet (UV) light. Using the wrong type of lamp could damage your eyes and cause other side effects.

The type of sun lamps used to treat SAD will not give you a tan or increase your vitamin D levels.

Sun lamps are generally considered safe because they don’t give off UV radiation. If side effects do occur, they’re usually mild and go away on their own within a few days.

Possible side effects may include:

  • headache
  • eyestrain
  • nausea

You may be able to manage your side effects by sitting further away from the sun lamp, or reducing the time spent in front of the sun lamp.

Some people may have an increased sensitivity to light due to certain medical conditions, such as macular degeneration, lupus, or connective tissue disorders.

Light therapy may also cause a manic episode in people with bipolar disorder. Speak to a doctor before using a sun lamp if you have any of these conditions.

To get the best results from a sun lamp, the light needs to enter your eyes indirectly. Your eyes should be open, but you should avoid looking directly at the light.

Morning is the best time to use a sun lamp for light therapy, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

A sun lamp with an intensity of 10,000 lux is recommended for SAD. That’s 9,900 lux more than the average standard household light.

Different intensities are available and the time you should spend in front the sun lamp depends on the intensity. Here’s how to use a sun lamp for the best results:

  • Place the sun lamp on a table or desk 16 to 24 inches away from your face.
  • Position the sun lamp 30 degrees overhead.
  • Do not look directly at the light.
  • Sit in front of the sun lamp for 20 to 30 minutes or the time recommended by the manufacturer or a doctor.
  • Try to use the sun lamp at the same time every day.

You can purchase sun lamps in retail stores and online without a prescription. The average cost of a sun lamp is around $150, but the price varies depending on the retailer, brand, and intensity.

Check out these lamps available on Amazon.

Choose a sunlamp that uses bright white light for the best results.

Consistent use of a sun lamp may help improve your mood and other symptoms of SAD. Speak to a doctor before using and always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.