The best light therapy lamps for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) are more commonplace now. As we get better at talking about mental health, we can open up our conversations to recommending the things that help. This includes light therapy lamps, which are specialist sun lamps designed to ease the symptoms of SAD.
SAD symptoms (low mood, depression, fatigue, poor concentration levels and energy) worsen during winter, but can arrive as early as fall. This is why doctors suggest using a SAD lamp for 30 minutes each morning from the first day of fall. The very best light therapy lamps are designed to boost levels of serotonin (the ‘happy chemical’) in your brain by recreating the effects of natural sunlight.
Daylight plays a role in how well you sleep, so no wonder sun lamps can help regulate your circadian rhythm (body clock) if you can’t get out for a daily stroll when the sun is high. Sleep, of course, is a natural mood boosters, so make sure you’re sleeping on the best mattress and pillows for your sleep style to give yourself the best chance of drifting off. That said, with depression and SAD, waking up can often be the challenge. If you have trouble waking, take a look at our guide to the best sunrise alarm clocks for a more cheerful wake-up call.
The best light therapy lamps all have a 10,000 lux output, which is the ambient measurement of daylight. To use one, ensure the sun lamp is sat slightly to the side of you. Avoid staring directly. Don’t worry, you can keep your eyeglasses on during a SAD lamp session. If you’re taking medication or have an underlying health condition, check with your doctor before buying a light therapy lamp to ensure they’re safe for you to use.
The best light therapy lamps to buy now
1. Miroco MI-CL003: Best light therapy lamp overall
This top-selling Miroco 10,000 lux sun lamp ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to providing the brightness you need to kickstart your day. The lamp has three modes (low, medium, high), and there is a built-in timer for sessions of 10 to 60 minutes. If you need to cancel a light therapy session, simply long-press any button.
We love the sleek minimalist frame and the compact size of the Miroco light therapy lamp, which makes it ultra-portable for work or home. There is also the option to hang it on the wall, picture-frame style, or keep it steady on a surface using the handy stand. The latter is ideal for your office desk or kitchen table alike.
Miroco advises to start by using the light therapy lamp for just ten minutes a day, then gradually increase the time up until you find what works for you.
2. Carex Day-Light Classic Plus: Best SAD lamp
This excellent LED sun lamp is suitable for anyone suffering the effects of severe sunlight deprivation. Carex states that its clinical-grade light is “used by leading university researchers around the world”, and emits 10,000 lux of glare-free white light at 12 inches.
Easily height and angle adjustable on a flexible stand, the Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Light Therapy Lamp projects light downwards, as recommended by experts. There are also two settings: one for light therapy and one for tasks. This means you can use the Day-Light Classic as a standard desk lamp too.
Used for just 20-30 minutes in the morning, over time this SAD lamp will boost your energy and improve your mood. While the large coverage 16 x 13in screen delivers maximum results, there’s no denying this light therapy lamp might be a little on the big side for some.
3. Circadian Optics Luxy: Best light therapy lamp for office use
When it comes to our wellbeing, light therapy lamps have many benefits. As well as boosting mood, they can also help improve our focus. And if like many, you are still home working and not getting out as much during the day, the Circadian Optics Luxy Sun Lamp could be just what you need to enjoy an energy boost.
The Luxy is a great little light therapy lamp. It looks fantastic and is ultra portable. Circadian Optics has plenty of light therapy lamps in its range, but we're particularly fond of the design of the Luxy with its stylish orange detail.
Ideal for the office, the Luxy sun lamp is USB-powered, as well as mains powered. The stand also converts to a cover, making it easy to transport, while the compact size at just over three inches means you can take it into the office when you finally return.
4. Vipex: Best light therapy lamp for the ‘winter blues’
Even if you do not feel the full impact of Seasonal Affective Disorder, when the days are short and sunshine is limited, it’s difficult not to feel a little under the weather and fatigued. Luckily, Vipex’s best light therapy lamp is on hand to provide exactly the right amount of light you need.
The built-in LED light panel on the Vipex Light Therapy Lamp delivers 10,000 lux with no pollution, no radiation and no stroboscopic effects. This means it can be safely used by a wider group of people, but we'd recommend speaking to your doctor first if you currently take medication, have a skin or eye health issue or mental health condition.
This sun lamp’s brightness can be easily controlled and levels start at 10% going up to 100% - all easily selected by a simple easy-to-use touch control. Meanwhile, a handy stand allows this lamp to sit vertically or horizontally, while the 30-minute timer function adds a little more convenience.
Simply place the Vipex Light Therapy Lamp four inches away from your face to give your energy a boost at the start of the day.
5. TaoTronics Sun Lamp: Best light therapy lamp for small budgets
If you need to find a good light therapy lamp that’s big on light and small on budget, TaoTronics has you covered. With three intensity settings and a compact 5.9-inch diameter, this handy light-therapy option is ideal if you need an additional SAD lamp for your home, or need something to take to work or use occasionally for jet-lag or seasonal time changes.
The easy button and touch control are simple to operate: just press the button on the bottom or tap the switch on the top to turn on the lamp or to choose brightness levels. To turn the light off simply long-press the switch.
The color temperature of the LED TaoTronics Light Therapy Lamp is 5500k to 6500k to imitate natural sunlight and make your day just that little bit brighter.
6. Circadian Optics Lattis: Best light therapy lamp for wide coverage
Lux is the standard measure of light intensity, while lumens is the amount of light produced by a light source. One lux is roughly equivalent to one lumen per square metre. The Circadian Optics Lattis offers the recommended amount of light needed for effective light therapy with a pure-white color of the noonday sun (5,500K).
The light is also full-spectrum and free of UV rays, with a bulb that should last around 50,000 hours. Circadian Optics is known for putting a lot of thought into its sun lamps, and this is particularly evident with the Lattis, which has an elegant design that looks great on any desk.
More importantly, the light quality is particularly pleasant and not harsh on the eyes. There are three brightness settings in total. The highest setting exudes a warm and natural light, and can fill a corner with cheerful light on dark winter days.
7. Miroco MI-CL005: Best light therapy lamp for beginners
Miroco’s sweet-and-simple light therapy lamp is small and portable, and comes with three different light intensities (40%, 60% and 100%) to help you work your way up to the full 10,000 lux. That alone makes it the best light therapy lamp for beginners.
With safe and UV-free LED, this stylish 5.9 inches SAD lamp fits most decors and can be placed wherever it is convenient for you to get the light you need to set you up for the day. A handy memory function retains your previous settings, which means you can just tap it and go.
Place the sun lamp at an angle anywhere from 5.5 to 20 inches away from where you are sitting or standing, remembering to avoid looking directly at the light. Start with just 10 minutes a day then build up to an amount that suits you best.
The latest prices for the best light therapy lamps
Best light therapy lamps FAQ
Do light therapy lamps really work?
Sun lamps mimic outdoor light, which researchers believe triggers a chemical change in the brain that helps with the symptoms of low light levels, such as fatigue, low mood and lack of focus.
Many reliable sources, such as the National Sleep Foundation are supporters of light therapy lamps, but while these SAD lamps are effective for most people, they won’t work for everybody or they might only work to a lesser degree. However, when tested against a placebo, studies showed the sunlamps genuinely do make a difference, whether it’s a little or a lot.
Ultimately though, proof can be found by testing out a lamp for yourself. There are plenty of cheaper options that you can start with to provide you with your 10,000 lux every morning. And, should you find the extra light beneficial, you can upgrade to a lamp with more features or buy an extra one to take to the office.
Can a sun lamp ease Seasonal Affective Disorder?
If you have SAD or any other type of mood disorder, the first port of call should be your doctor, but light therapy lamps can help ease symptoms to a degree. If your moods are suffering because of S.A.D., other factors such as exercise, diet and sleep need to be looked at too.
While researchers at Harvard Medical School do not cite light therapy lamps as being a cure-all for S.A.D., they do suggest that such lamps are effective at easing symptoms. Sun lamps aren't suitable for everyone though, especially if you have eye health issues or certain mental health conditions.
The American Psychiatric Association also claims that light therapy can help with S.A.D. and has seen positive results in patients within as little as one to two weeks.
How much do the best light therapy lamps cost?
Smaller sun therapy lamps cost between $10 and $75. However, as I found out during testing, just because a sun lamp is advertised as a 10,000 lux lamp doesn't mean it's 10,000 lux when sitting at a comfortable distance.
If you find light therapy is effective for you, it's worth it to buy a larger lamp, as these provide better coverage and a brighter light at further distances. Large light therapy lamps start at $150 and can reach upward of $500. The only additional cost to consider is light bulb replacements, which can vary between $6 and $52 per bulb, depending on the lamp.
How long should you use a light therapy lamp for?
Every individual has different needs. You may need 45 minutes under the SAD lamp each day instead of 20 minutes. You can also get the same benefits from a lower brightness, but this takes longer. So if the light reaching your eyes is 5,000 lux, you may need to double the amount of time you spend next to the light compared to a 10,000 lux sun lamp.
Since the lamps are meant to simulate the brightness of sunlight, we tested each one using the Extech LT45 light meter. The brightness of a light therapy lamp diminishes as you move further away from it.
An inch, for instance, can mean the difference of 1,000 lux. For example, at 16 inches, the brightest lamp in this test measured just 3,900 lux, but the same lamp measured 10,000 lux at 12 inches. You could move your head just 4 inches and lose nearly 6,000 lux.
Why else do people need lamps that simulate sunlight?
Apart from SAD, there are many other reasons why a sun lamp is a great choice, such as if you live in a basement flat for instance, and do not get the natural daylight you need. Light therapy lamps can also help with the effects of seasonal time-shifts and jetlag, as well as anxiety and sleep disorders. Light therapy is also said to possibly help with dementia, although more evidence is needed.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of people who simply enjoy the level of light offered by light therapy lamps, and like to have the atmosphere while they work or relax, as a quick pick-me-up or mood-booster. However, if you have bipolar disorder or any eye conditions, it’s worth checking with your health practitioner first to see if light therapy is suitable, as it may trigger adverse reactions.
Is the coverage of a light therapy lamp important?
Larger light therapy lamps are not necessarily better than smaller ones, but you should choose a lamp with enough coverage that you can sit by it for 30 minutes without having to stay still. This is a problem with small light therapy lamps since their coverage is not big enough. As mentioned, you could move your head a few inches and significantly reduce the benefits of the light therapy lamp.
Getting the right amount of light and the proper amount of coverage likely means adjusting the angle of the SAD lamp. Experts recommend that sun lamps should be angled downwards at 30 degrees, but it doesn't really matter what angle the light is aimed, you just need to be able to comfortably read or work on a computer while receiving the light without having to look directly into the lamp.
How does light therapy work?
While there is still some debate over the physiological causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder, the scientific consensus is a lack of natural sunlight. The sun is thought of as a natural antidepressant because it helps regulate our circadian rhythm. It's also our primary source of vitamin D, which boosts our brain's serotonin production.
Light therapy lamps are therefore designed to alleviate the symptoms of a disrupted circadian rhythm, rather than the conversion of UVB radiation to vitamin D. In other words, light therapy lamps aren’t going to give you a tan.
If you suspect you have a vitamin D deficiency, chat to your doctor about foods and supplements that may help.
When should you use a light therapy lamp?
There are specific times of the year and day when it’s especially beneficial to use a sun lamp. As mentioned above, doctors recommend light therapy lamps for people who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, or who spend a lot of time indoors.
Winter is the most popular time of year to use the best light therapy lamps. That's because the days are shorter, so you're less exposed to mood-boosting sunlight. Getting extra light from a sun lamp can help bolster your mood and regulate your circadian rhythm (good news for your sleep). That’s because sunlight affects the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that dictates your circadian rhythm and moods.
The hypothalamus is in charge of releasing melatonin and serotonin, and it depends on light to regulate and distribute these hormones. When you don’t have enough sunlight, this process gets disrupted, which may lead to depression and insomnia.
For the same reason, the best light therapy lamps are good for people who live far north or south of the equator, especially during the winter months.
What are the risks of using a light therapy lamp?
According to the Center for Environmental Therapeutics, light therapy is not recommended for people with the following pre-existing conditions because of the way it affects the skin and eyes:
- Retinal dystrophy
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Lupus erythematodes
- Chronic actinic dermatitis
- Solar urticaria
You should also avoid using a light therapy lamp if you're taking medications that are known to photosensitize skin:
- Psychiatric neuroleptic drugs
- Psoralen drugs
- Antiarrhythmic drugs
- Antimalarial and antirheumatic drugs
- Porphyrin drugs
- St. John's Wort
In addition, PsychEducation warns about using light therapy if you have bipolar disorder as it could induce manic episodes. If you have bipolar disorder, talk with your doctor to determine if sunlight therapy is suitable for you.