Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD – is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons and many sufferers find their symptoms are worse during the winter.
The last two winters have been harder than previous years of course, because of the stress and uncertainty brought by the pandemic, and to top it all it’s almost time for Blue Monday – this year falling on January 17 – the third Monday in January which is typically known as the "most depressing day of the year."
If you’re feeling down and are worried SAD may be playing a part, you should see your GP, who can carry out an assessment and recommend a course of treatment. Many sufferers turn to SAD lamps for light therapy to help alleviate their symptoms.
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How do SAD lamps work?
SAD lamps send out bright light which hits the retina and sends nerve signals to the brain, positively affecting the chemical and hormone levels and improving the mood of the sufferer. This is known as SAD light therapy.
WATCH: A sneek peek at our favourite tablet-style SAD lamp
Do SAD lamps give you vitamin D or a tan?
No. Certified SAD lamps filter out most or all ultraviolet light. Using SAD lamps for light therapy will not give you a tan or increase vitamin D levels.
What is the best SAD lamp to buy?
A SAD lamp needs to have a brightness of at least 2,500 lux to qualify, and be medically certified for treating the disorder.
There are models with higher brightness, however, going up to as much as 10,000 lux. The brighter the light, the shorter the session of SAD light therapy needed. Between 30 minutes to an hour a day is recommended.
Can I use a SAD lamp at night? What about with my eyes closed?
Most SAD light therapy is prescribed to be done in the early morning upon waking. Sufferers put the SAD light box on a desk or table and sit in front of it at a specified distance while they read or eat breakfast. Studies vary as to whether light therapy at other times of the day is less effective.
For light therapy to be effective, light from the SAD lamp must enter the eyes indirectly. The eyes should be open but the user shouldn’t stare directly at the light box, as the bright light can damage the eyes
Where can I buy a SAD lamp?
There are a variety of medically-certified SAD lamps available online on Amazon – see our top picks below. Even if you don’t have SAD, a light-therapy box can help lift mood regulate your circadian rhythm – the natural internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle – which can get thrown off in the winter.
Anyone with a history of clinical depression or bipolar disorder should check with a medical professional first before trying, however, as psychologists say that SAD lamps can affect medication or produce an exaggerated response in anyone with these conditions.
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Best light-therapy alarm clock
Lumie Sunrise Alarm, was £39.99 now £33.99, Amazon
Star rating: 4.5 out of 5
This works slightly differently from regular SAD lamps. It’s designed to wake you up with light, as nature intended. It wakes you up with an artificial sunrise which begins 30 mins before your alarm time and natural sounds can be added in too.
It also has a sunset setting that can be used to wind down at bedtime. It’s been claimed that waking up with light can reset your internal clock and metabolism, allowing you to greet the day alert and refreshed. Lumie describe their clocks as an addition to light therapy, not an alternative.
Top review: "This model has lots of settings including the sunset feature which I absolutely love, it really helps me to unwind and I generally fall asleep before the light goes out.
The sunrise function works very well as it brings me out of sleep gently with the increase in light and by the time the birds start tweeting (alarm setting) I’m ready to open my eyes and start the day!"
Best USB SAD lamp
NIXIUKOL SAD light, was £35.99 now £29.99, Amazon
Star rating: 4.6 out of 5
This compact, portable SAD lamp can be plugged directly into a computer and is perfect for small spaces. It offers three light colours – white, natural and warm and is adjustable, so you can set it at one of the brightness levels which is best for you.
Top review: "In one word AWESOME. I have suffered with extreme fatigue and never ending tiredness all year round. After a couple of uses, I definitely felt the difference and have much more focus, am less tired (finally!!!), feel happier and more like my old self, have more energy, my concentration at work has improved and, best of all, I sleep much better. I would definitely recommend."
Best large SAD lamp
Lumie Brazil large 10,000 SAD therapy lamp, was £178.80 now £139.97, Amazon
Star rating: 4.5 out of 5
If you have more room you might want to invest in the Brazil – it’s the largest SAD lamp that Lumie makes, at 50cm tall. Although it’s really designed to be portable, it does have a handle so it can be moved around easily.
Top review: "This is brilliant. If you can afford the extra that this lamp costs, you will not regret it. Bought it for my wife who is suffering from serotonin depletion as a part of her recovery. I find it good for me too."
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Best tablet-style SAD lamp
Beurer TL30UK 10,000 lux SAD lamp, was £59.99 now £50.73, Amazon
Star rating: 4.3 out of 5
German brand Beurer’s sleek tablet-style, mains-only SAD lamp has to be one of the easiest to use – with a single on-off button and a detachable stand that lets you put it in horizontal or vertical mode. It comes with a storage case that makes it a particularly good travel option.
Top review: "This is an excellent light source, it’s so bright it’s useful for reading too. Bought for my mum who doesn't get out much in winter and appears to be exhibiting SAD symptoms. She likes it and is starting to feel more upbeat. All the elderly ought to have one!"
Best slimline SAD lamp
Lumie Vitamin L Slim Light Box for Effective SAD Light Therapy, was £90 now £59.99/$99, Amazon
Star rating: 4.7 out of 5
The Lumie Vitamin L is a great, medically certified class 2a portable lamp. You can put it in portrait or landscape position - and it has a generous 20 x 28 cm surface area with cool white LEDs and a rippled diffuser for a soft, comfortable light.
Top review: "I bought this SAD light (although I do not suffer from seasonal depression, just lethargic in the morning) with a good dose of skepticism... I just wanted a nice sunny breakfast that would wake me up fully in the morning... and I have not been disappointed. The light that this flat panel LED lamp produces is truly warm, very similar to the sensation of a sunny morning. It is perfect to be kept at an angle in the morning and does not cause burn into your retinas as it is well diffused. The feeling is actually warm, it feels like (winter) sun on the skin and that is very pleasant. I use it every morning on the breakfast table for about 20 mins to half an hour and it is a treat I cannot do without now."
Best desk light SAD lamp
Lumie DESKLAMP - SAD Light Therapy and Task/Reading lamp, £144, Amazon
Star rating: 4.5 out of 5
This SAD lamp is unique in that the bendable neck makes it fully poseable so the light can be focussed on the exact point you need it – it doubles up as a reading light when you’re not using it as a SAD lamp. There are four different brightness levels and there’s also a light diffuser which makes it easier on the eye.
Top review: "I've wanted a SAD lamp for a number of years but given the expense and my skepticism I kept delaying the purchase! However, I finally took the plunge and all I can say is, wow! This actually really works. I live in Scotland which unfortunately comes with lots of cloud and rain and much shorter days in the winter. This lamp has helped enormously."
Best SAD lamp with extra features
Philips Sleep and Wake Up Light, £187.89, Amazon
Star rating: 4.4 out of 5
Designed to help you relax and wake up refreshed, this SAD lamp from Philips also includes light-guided breathing to ease anxiety and depression. There are multiple light settings so you can choose the intensity level that's right for you, and there's even a red light option to use if you need to get up in the night so you can drift off again quickly.
Top review: "I’ve really been struggling to wake up and thought this might help... well, I wasn’t wrong! The sunrise function is great, I wake up feeling much happier as it’s much less jarring than having a radio suddenly blaring and as a bonus the sunset function is really helping me get to sleep. I’ve always been one of those people that can’t drift off easily but for some reason when the clock starts going reddish and can’t stay awake. I’m sleeping so much better and I genuinely wouldn’t be without it now, it’s been a godsend the last couple of months!"
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