As the number of daylight hours decreases in the cooler months, many people find themselves feeling tired, lonely, and even depressed. Millions of Americans experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—also referred to as seasonal depression—which causes changes in energy levels and negatively impacts mood. One of the primary treatments for this disorder is light therapy. Light therapy lamps (or SAD lamps) mimic the sun’s rays and can boost your mood by increasing serotonin levels. They can also be used to treat jet lag and help with certain sleep disorders.
Read on to learn more about the best light therapy lamps on the market to suit your needs.
- BEST OVERALL: Carex Health Brands Light Therapy Lamp
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: TaoTronics Light Therapy Lamp
- BEST FLOOR LAMP: Northern Light Technologies Light Therapy Floor Lamp
- BEST DESK LAMP: Theralite Aura Bright Light Therapy Lamp
- BEST COMPACT: Miroco Light Therapy Lamp
- BEST PORTABLE: Circadian Optics Light Therapy Lamp
- BEST MOUNTABLE: Aura Day Light Lamp
Before You Buy a Light Therapy Lamp
While health care professionals often recommend light therapy lamps to individuals who have been diagnosed with SAD, they can also be beneficial for anyone who feels melancholy or has cabin fever in the colder and darker months of the year.
It’s important to distinguish light therapy lamps that are built specifically to treat SAD from natural sunrise simulation lamps. These products are sometimes marketed as light therapy lamps, but they serve a different function. Often paired with alarm clocks, they provide sunrise simulation as a gentler way to be awakened in the morning. However, these kinds of lamps do not meet the recommended criteria for providing 10,000 lux (a measure of illuminance, or light intensity, in a particular area) of UV-free light to treat SAD.
Different still are phototherapy lamps that are meant to treat certain skin diseases. Unlike light therapy lamps, these lamps do use ultraviolet (UV) light in order to treat symptoms and reduce inflammation. Phototherapy is typically performed under the care of a doctor rather than in your home.
For this article, we’ll just be reviewing light therapy lamps that are intended to treat SAD.
Features to Look for in Best Light Therapy Lamp
Before you shop for a light therapy lamp, weigh some key considerations. Though it would be easy to assume that all light therapy lamps will deliver a similar result, keep several factors in mind when shopping for the best light therapy lamp for your needs.
To be most effective for treating SAD, the light box of a light therapy lamp should measure at least 12 inches by 18 inches. Since this is quite large, most light therapy lamps on the market feature a smaller light box so the device can be easily integrated into your living space. While a smaller light box is also effective, some manufacturers recommend using it longer than the typical 20 to 30 minutes to compensate for the reduced size. Another way to compensate for a smaller light box is by placing it closer to your eyes, following the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Ideally, you should position a light therapy lamp slightly above eye level and at a slight downward angle to reduce the amount of glare. Many higher-end models have stands that elevate them to the ideal angle. However, more standard light therapy lamps sit on a flat surface, angled slightly below eye level. To achieve the perfect height, you can raise a light therapy lamp above eye level by placing it on an elevated surface. You could also purchase a floor light therapy lamp or a mountable light therapy lamp, both of which are ideal if you lack surface space.
The standard maximum brightness level of a light therapy lamp is 10,000 lux. This is approximately 100 times brighter than the average indoor light source. Because of the intensity of the light, the majority of light therapy lamps have a built-in UV filter to reduce the amount of harmful rays they emit.
Some light therapy lamps on the market offer lower light intensities that simply require more extended daily use. For example, while you can use a 10,000-lux light therapy lamp for 20 to 30 minutes per day, you could also opt to use a 5,000-lux light therapy lamp for 45 to 60 minutes per day.
The temperature of the light emitted from a light therapy lamp is another key consideration. Light temperature is measured on the Kelvin (K) scale. Higher numbers (from 6,000K to 10,000K) represent cooler temperatures that give off a bluish hue, while lower numbers (from 1,000K to 5,000K) represent warmer temperatures that give off a reddish-orange to a yellowish hue. In a light therapy lamp, the color temperature typically ranges from 3,000K to 6,500K.
Some light therapy lamps are equipped with a timer to ensure you receive the ideal amount of light exposure. Given that overuse can potentially cause adverse effects like headaches, nausea, and insomnia, it’s important to avoid spending longer than the recommended amount of time in front of a light therapy lamp. If the light therapy lamp you choose doesn’t include a timer, set an alarm to ensure you don’t accidentally leave it on for too long.
Light therapy lamps may offer just one light setting or multiple settings that you can control with buttons or a switch. Most light therapy lamps provide a light intensity of 10,000 lux, but adjustable light therapy lamps also offer lower brightness levels that you can use for a longer period of time if an intensity of 10,000 lux proves to be too uncomfortable.
Our Top Picks
The following recommendations take into account all the above-mentioned considerations, including size, position, light intensity, and extra features. This list includes some of the best light therapy lamps on the market to help you find the right one for your needs and budget.
Experts recommend that the light box portion of a light therapy lamp has a surface area of approximately 12 inches by 18 inches to be most effective, but most light therapy lamps on the market don’t meet those guidelines. With a height of 13.5 inches and a width of 15.5 inches, the light box on this light therapy lamp from Carex comes closer to meeting those guidelines than most models. It is recommended for use at a distance of 12 inches from your eyes in order to achieve the desired effect of the 10,000-lux light intensity.
This light therapy lamp attaches to a stand that allows you to adjust the angle for maximum comfort, and the light is projected from above for the ideal effect. It features an anti-glare screen as well as a filter that blocks 99.3 percent of UV light.
In recent years, the popularity of light therapy lamps combined with advances in technology have made it possible to find a great product at a low price. This model by TaoTronics offers a slim design that will seamlessly blend into your decor. It provides a color temperature of 6,500K to replicate daylight, and while it has a light intensity of 10,000 lux, you can adjust the brightness from 100 percent strength to as low as 20 percent strength.
This lamp can be positioned in either portrait or landscape style and features an adjustable angle that moves between 40 degrees and 100 degrees. It is also equipped with a 30-minute timer to help you receive the ideal amount of light therapy, while blocking those harmful UV rays with a built-in UV filter. It’s recommended for use 5.5 inches to 20 inches from your eyes, depending on your preference.
If you prefer a floor-length light therapy lamp, this pick from Northern Light Technologies might fit the bill. At its full height, the lamp is four feet tall, and you can rotate the head to achieve the ideal angle for your light therapy. It emits 10,000 lux of light intensity positioned 12 inches from your eyes, or you can move it 16 inches from your eyes to receive 6,000 lux. This lamp offers an energy-efficient design that uses just 48 watts of power to operate. It includes a UV filter to block harmful rays as well as a parabolic lens reflector to reduce glare.
Most affordable light therapy lamps don’t include a stand and are, therefore, angled upwards. This desk lamp from Theralite features both an adjustable stand and a swiveling head, allowing for the ideal downward-tilting angle. It provides four brightness settings, with a maximum output of 10,000 lux of light intensity. At 3,000K, this light therapy lamp has a slightly warmer color temperature than standard daylight, which creates a softer, more ambient lighting effect in your residence. It is glare-free and includes a built-in UV filter to eliminate harmful rays. The light box portion of the lamp is of medium size, measuring 11 inches in height by 8 inches in width.
Individuals living in small spaces will appreciate the compact size of this light therapy lamp from Miroco. At 5.9 inches by 5.9 inches by 1.25 inches, it can even fit on small desks and in other spaces with a limited surface area. This lamp features three settings of 100, 60, and 40 percent strength with the maximum setting emitting 10,000 lux of UV-free light intensity. It has a cool color temperature of 6,500K and a memory function that recalls the last brightness setting you used. This lamp is intended for use between 5.5 inches and 20 inches from your eyes.
While most light therapy lamps are sized for home or office use, this portable lamp from Circadian Optics is an excellent choice for travel or to use on-the-go at just 1.5 inches wide. It also folds up so you can easily pack it in a suitcase or backpack. This lamp is equally ideal if you just have a small space that can’t accommodate a larger light therapy lamp.
It provides a maximum light intensity of 10,000 lux, but the availability of three settings allows you to lower strength to a level that fits your personal preference. The lamp offers a color temperature of 5,500K, which is meant to replicate the light of the noonday sun. Since it is adjustable, you can use it in a variety of positions and at an angle that is comfortable for you. It also includes a UV filter to give you the benefits of the light while protecting you from harmful rays.
This light therapy lamp from Aura Daylight is wall mountable, which makes it a great pick for use in small areas that lack available surface space. In order to achieve the ideal positioning, it’s also adjustable to an angle of either 70 degrees or 85 degrees. It also features an adjustable dial to control the amount of light emission between 3,500 lux and 10,000 lux, depending on the level of intensity you desire. The lamp is equipped with a UV filter and is certified to provide 100 percent UV-free light. It includes a timer which you can set in 10-minute intervals from 10 minutes up to 60 minutes, and it will automatically turn off when the timer ends.
The Advantages of Owning the Best Light Therapy Lamp
A light therapy lamp can provide a number of benefits if you’ve been diagnosed with SAD or even if you just simply experience the blues due to the lack of sunshine during endless dreary days. In addition to treating SAD, a light therapy lamp can:
- Improve your sleep cycle
- Boost your mood
- Increase your energy level
- Alleviate jet lag
Tips for Using a Light Therapy Lamp
Most light therapy lamps are meant to be used for about 20 to 30 minutes per day, though less powerful models recommend longer exposure to compensate for the lack of luminance. To avoid negatively impacting your sleep, it’s best to use a light therapy lamp in the morning. Make sure to always position a light therapy lamp at an angle so you aren’t staring directly into it. You can read, eat, or use a computer or other device while you’re next to your light therapy lamp. However, remember that your eyes must be open for a light therapy lamp to be effective, so don’t use it while you sleep.
- Use your light therapy lamp for 20 to 30 minutes per day.
- Use it in the morning to avoid negatively impacting your sleep.
- Don’t stare directly into it.
- Feel free to read, eat, or use electronic devices while next to it.
- Don’t use it while you’re sleeping.
FAQs About Light Therapy Lamps
With all the available options, finding a light therapy lamp can be a bit overwhelming, so you might still have some questions. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about light therapy lamps.
Q. What are light therapy lamps?
Light therapy lamps are light sources used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or just to improve mood, energy, and sleep during the colder and darker months.
Q. How do light therapy lamps work?
Light therapy lamps imitate the light of the sun. When this type of light enters your retinas, it activates the hypothalamus, which can positively affect your sleep cycle, appetite control, and circadian rhythms. Light therapy lamps can also increase the production of serotonin, helping to manage depression and anxiety.
Q. How many lumens do I need for light therapy lamps?
The power of light therapy lamps is not typically measured in lumens, which represent the amount of light emitted from a source. Instead, it is measured by lux, which represents illuminance, or light intensity, in a particular area. Lux is equal to one lumen per square meter.
Q. What time of day is best for light therapy lamps?
The best time of day to use a light therapy lamp is in the morning, ideally between 6am and 9 am. This is to ensure that your sleep cycle isn’t negatively affected by the light exposure.
Q. Who should use light therapy lamps?
Individuals diagnosed with SAD or anyone who finds his or her mood, energy, and sleep being negatively affected by reduced daylight in the cooler months can benefit from using a light therapy lamp.