The best light therapy lamps for home use simulate natural sunlight, and are often recommended by health professionals to ease symptoms of Seasonal Affective disorder (S.A.D.). Also known as the best SAD lamps, they should be used every morning during Autumn and Winter for around 30 minutes to alleviate SAD symptoms such as low mood, fatigue, and lack of focus and concentration. In short, with consistent use, light therapy lamps can help you feel more energized, happier and productive.
That’s because the 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 vital role in how well you sleep too, so sun lamps help regulate your circadian rhythm (body clock) for better sleep. If, on the other hand, you struggle to wake up in the mornings, using one of the best sunrise alarm clocks could help you wake more naturally, especially during winter.
As well as helping to ease S.A.D., the best light therapy lamps are effective at taking the edge off jet lag, and for giving night shift workers a sense of daylight. The best SAD lamps have a 10,000 lux output, the ambient measurement of daylight, so all of the products featured below have the same output or higher. In terms of positioning, a light therapy lamp should be sat slightly to the side of you, and, as with normal sunlight, avoid staring directly at it to protect your eyes. Speaking of which, light therapy lamps are still effective even if you wear eyeglasses, so don’t worry about taking them off during your daily session.
If you’re taking medication, or have an underlying health condition, check with your doctor before buying one of the best light therapy lamps. Also ask your doctor about other ways to ease Seasonal Affective Disorder. Exercise and sleep are natural mood boosters, so make sure you’re sleeping on the best mattress and pillows for your sleep style, while the best sound machines can create soothing white noise to help you drift off.
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, this light therapy lamp projects light downwards, as recommended by experts. There are also two settings: one for light therapy and one for tasks, meaning 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. 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 delivers 10,000 lux with no pollution, no radiation and no stroboscopic effects.
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 lamp four inches away from your face to lift your spirits and give your energy a little boost at the start of the day.
4. 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.
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 Luxy: Best light therapy lamp for office use
When it comes to our wellbeing, sun lamps have so many benefits – as well as boosting mood, they can significantly improve our focus and concentration, ideal if you have plenty to do for the day. And if like many, you are office-based and need to be present and alert at your desk first thing, then a light therapy lamp could be just what you need to get going.
The Luxy is a great little light therapy lamp. It looks fantastic and is ultra portable too. Circadian Optics have plenty of light-therapy amps in their range, but we particularly love 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 square inches really makes it shine.
7. 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, with 1 lux roughly equivalent to 1 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 (5500K). The light is also full-spectrum and free of unwanted UV rays with a bulb that lasts 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 asymmetrical design that looks great on any desk.
More importantly, the light quality is particularly pleasant with this light therapy lamp. There are three brightness settings, and the highest setting gives off a warm and natural light, which is not overbearing. With maximum light and looks, this stylish SAD lamp is an excellent choice.
The latest prices for the best light therapy lamps
Best light therapy lamps FAQ
Do the best light therapy lamps 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, then you can upgrade to a lamp with more features or buy an extra one to take to the office – handy for those long winter work days.
Can a sun lamp ease Seasonal Affective Disorder?
If you have SAD or any other type of depression, the first port of call should be with your doctor, but light therapy lamps can certainly help with symptoms. As ever, a well-rounded approach is needed, and if your moods and concentration are suffering because of SAD, other factors such as exercise, diet and sleep need to be taken into consideration too.
While sources such as Harvard Medical School do not cite the lamps as being a cure-all for SAD, they do suggest the lamps are effective, but they may not be for everybody, especially if you have more severe underlying mental health problems.
Other trials have reported on the effectiveness of these lamps after putting them to the test on small groups of people. The American Psychiatric Association also claims that light therapy can certainly help, and has seen positive results in SAD patients within as little as one or 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 literally an antidepressant because it helps regulate our circadian rhythm. It's also our primary source of vitamin D, which helps boost our brain's serotonin production.
The light therapy industry, both from a manufacturer and a mental health practitioner perspective, focuses on light therapy designed to alleviate the symptoms of a disrupted circadian rhythm, rather than the conversion of UVB radiation to vitamin D.
In other words, these light therapy lamps aren’t going to give you a tan! In fact, you shouldn't visit a tanning salon to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder - it simply doesn't work. If you suspect you have a vitamin D deficiency, talk to your doctor about foods and potentially supplements that may help.
Is the brightness of an SAD lamp important?
According to Columbia University, a therapeutic level of light illumination may reduce melatonin levels in the blood. Melatonin is a natural hormone created by the body to help regulate sleep and waking patterns. During winter months when the days are shorter, people tend to have excess melatonin in their system.
This can make it difficult to wake up completely and leads to a type of hibernation-like state among people with seasonal affective disorder. While the light sensitivity of melatonin is understood, the Columbia University study admits the science is not clear on how light helps reduce melatonin in your bloodstream, as simply exposing your skin to the light doesn’t work.
However, Dr. Helle Madsen of the University of Copenhagen has studied the correlation between light exposure and the photosensitive cells of the retinas. She explains how studies in seasonal affective disorder patients suggest "their retinas are less sensitive to light.
This sub-sensitivity has been shown for both rods and cones, and the intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells." She even points out that people with severely reduced eyesight are three times more likely to suffer from seasonal affective disorder.
When should you use the best light therapy lamps?
You can use light therapy lamps whenever you feel you need to. However, there are specific times and situations when it’s especially beneficial to use a sun lamp. For example, they are particularly useful during certain seasons. As mentioned above, doctors also recommend therapy lamps for people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or who spend much of their time indoors.
Winter is the most popular time of year to use the best light therapy lamps, as days are shorter and you are ultimately exposed to less mood-boosting sunlight. Getting extra light from a sun lamp can help bolster your mood and regulate your sleep patterns. 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 really far north or south of the equator, especially during the winter months when their location is furthest from the sun. Countries like Norway, Finland, Sweden, Estonia and Iceland have vastly shorter days on average during the winter. As such, it’s common for sun lamps to help citizens in these regions get the recommended amount of daylight.
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.org warns about using light therapy if you have bipolar disorder. While it can help people with bipolar, it can also induce manic episodes. If you have bipolar, you should talk with your therapist or psychiatrist to determine the course of your sunlight therapy, and whether it's suitable for you at all.
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