If Seasonal Affective Disorder has you in its dark grip, the best SAD lamps could provide relief as a form of light therapy.
SAD - a condition estimated to affect around 10 million Americans every year - is often somewhat dismissively labelled 'the winter blues'. However, in actuality it is a type of depression that comes and goes in a cyclical pattern, in sync with the changing seasons.
It typically kicks in around late autumn, and hits its peak during the northern hemisphere's winter months of December, January and February.
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As Hannah Braye, a nutritional therapist for Bio-Kult, explains: 'Symptoms include low mood, lethargy and a tendency to overeat and crave carbs in the winter months, despite feeling happy, active and energetic in summer.'
How can light therapy help? SAD lamps (also known as light boxes) are designed to simulate sunlight, which influences body chemistry to make the user feel more positive, alert and ready to face the world. These clever gadgets mimic outdoor light – a natural mood booster – to increase the level of happy hormone serotonin in the body.
'SAD lamps are an effective form of light therapy and can make a significant difference to your overall mental health and wellbeing,' says Dr Giuseppe Aragona, Medical Advisor at Prescription Doctor. 'Although light therapy won't cure SAD, the brightness from the lamps will help provide you with a mental boost, helping to increase your energy levels and outlook on daily life and activities.'
But which is the best SAD lamp for you? Coming out top of our list is the TaoTronics TT-CL016 Light Therapy Lamp. Sleek, compact, portable and effective, it really delivers and is very affordable. However, our list also includes options for those on a budget - the Tecboss Light Therapy Lamp is a great little buy with a great little price tag. Alternatively, you may wish to consider one of the best wake-up lights - in which case Lumie have you covered with their Shine 300.
How to choose the best SAD lamp for you
There are various factors to consider when selecting which SAD lamp is for you...
- Brightness (lux)
An essential factor to consider is the brightness. 'When purchasing a SAD lamp, make sure you choose one that has at least 10,000 lux (the measure of brightness),' says Dr Aragona. This is the minimum brightness required in order for SAD lamps to be medically certified.
Also make sure that it emits little (or no) UV light so it won’t damage your eyes.
Size is worth considering – many of these lamps are portable and in tablet form, making them easier to transport to the office or when travelling. Or you could opt for a SAD lamp that doubles up as a reading light. The effectiveness depends on daily use, so buy one that fits in with your style and environment.
Another factor when it comes to effectiveness relates to positioning. Because the light needs to fall on both your eyes, the way you position it is important in order for it to work - so look for options that allow for the lamp to be repositioned.
- Extra functionality
Many SAD lamps are designed with low blue light – which helps balance the sleep-wake cycle – and the fancier ones on the market come with added extras such as radios, USB ports and light alarms (known as dawn simulators). The latter have been shown to help treat some of the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, and work by slowly building up light in the morning to wake you up gently. But note: these aren’t as bright as SAD lamps, and won’t treat all the symptoms of SAD.
- Energy efficiency
Energy efficiency is also important. Buying a SAD lamp with low energy consumption will not only save on bills, it also won’t cost the earth.
Always check with your doctor if light therapy is for you. And once you've done that, take a look at our pick of the best SAD lamps on the market below.
The best SAD lamps you can buy right now
If you’re just dipping your toe into the world of light therapy, this tablet-style, portable SAD lamp is for you. It’s ultra-thin, compact and really easy to use - no wonder it scores 4.8 stars out of 5 on Amazon.
You can adjust the position of the lamp to vertical or horizontal, making it easy to fit your space. It’s very lightweight – just 1.5lbs – so it’s easy to transport to the office or on holiday, helped by a handy carry bag.
Like many of its competitors it uses LED tech to create a flicker-free UV-free glare. The ability to increase or decrease the intensity is a major plus (although the touch controls can be a little overzealous at times), plus comes with a built-in timer. A great little lamp that packs a punch.
Modern and chic, the Aurora is Scandinavian-designed and we love that it doubles up as a standard table lamp: the dimmer switch means you can quickly change to mood lighting. It uses highly energy efficient bulbs that work for over 10,000 hours and provides a safe, glare-free, UV-free brightness of 10,000 lux.
It’s a little more on the pricey end of SAD lamps on the market, but if you’re looking for something stylish that also really works, then this is a great option. It offers great light distribution, has a weighty base that keeps it from knocking over - although, be warned, it will take up a fair bit of space. But if you want your SAD lamp to make a statement, this it the perfect choice.
Excellent value, portable and so easy to use a four year old can operate it, the TECBOSS sunlamp really delivers. It may be small - it only weighs 1.5lbs - but it’s super bright (choose from five brightness levels), has a full 10,000 lux and three colour options to work through (white, natural or warm light).
The night light option is also great for young kids, while the timer and automatic switch off is energy efficient and prevents over-usage. It’s well made, includes an adjustable stand and is UV-free. We loves the user-friendly memory function that allows you to keep your preferred settings, meaning you are good to go as soon as you want to use your lamp. A great all-rounder and an all-round great price!
OK, this isn't technically a SAD lamp (hence it doesn't have a lux rating). Instead, this is a wake-up light (also known as a dawn simulator). However, if you struggle to wake up in the mornings - especially in winter when the days are dark - then this might just boost your wellbeing, both mentally and physically.
Forget being jolted out of your slumber by a loud alarm, and instead wake to a gradual sunrise to feel naturally refreshed and alert. Like many of its rivals, the medically-certified Lumie Bodyclock Shine 300 uses LED tech to provide smooth light changes, which you can set to occur over 15 to 90 minutes.
You can also chose to add a radio alarm or one of the 14 wake sounds - from waterfalls to bird song. On cold, dark winter mornings, what could be a better way to start your day?
Sleek and stylish, this tablet-style portable daylight is compact and practical, and thanks to its adjustable base can be used in both portrait and landscape format. It may be small, but it packs a powerful punch simulating sunlight of 10,000 lux (at a distance of 10cm) – an intensity that is medically recognised to help treat seasonal depression and sleeping disorders.
This lamp uses UV-free LED technology designed to save on energy bills. So, while it’s bright, it won’t cost you a fortune. It’s really easy to use, and comes with an adjustable stand and travel bag. Good-looking, neat design with a perfectly even light output, this is a great choice for anyone looking to try light therapy. Not surprising that it’s a top seller!