Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real thing, and it could be something that affects you more than you think. The Mayo Clinic has outlined a list of five symptoms that could be the effects of SAD:

  • Mood: anxiety, apathy, general discontent, loneliness, loss of interest, mood swings, or sadness
  • Sleep: excess sleepiness, insomnia, or sleep deprivation
  • Whole body: appetite changes or fatigue
  • Behavioral: irritability or social isolation
  • Also common: depression, lack of concentration, or weight gain

If you have experienced any of these symptoms–even if it’s only a bit more than your usual experience—you may be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. Contrary to popular belief, while it sounds like it occurs only seasonally, SAD can affect you any time the weather has been gloomy or rainy for a few days or if you haven’t been outside or exposed to sunlight in a few days. Yes, this means you can get SAD in colorful spring and warm summer, too.

The good news is SAD is mild enough for the average person to treat without the aid of prescription medication. If your SAD is affecting your mood, sleep, appetite, or behavior and you feel unlike yourself, reflect on whether you’ve been in the sun recently or if the weather in recent days has been glum and grey. Taking a 20-minute walk in sunlight is one simple way to help reverse your symptoms.

But what if you don’t have the luxury to carve this time out of your daily life? You can get the same effect sunlight has on your body by using a light therapy lamp.

The science behind this isn’t new. In fact, light therapy has been thoroughly researched for nearly 40 years. The Psychiatry Journal of the American Medical Association has published findings on the effects of light therapy on SAD since the 1980s. A 1989 article in Neuropsychopharmacology reports, “Bright artificial light has been found effective in reducing winter depressive symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

Why does this happen? Glad you asked. A piece in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal states that “melatonin is produced during the dark hours and stops upon optic exposure to daylight.” As a refresher, melatonin is the hormone that regulates your sleep/wake hours. It’s the thing that makes you feel sleepy at bedtime.

For those sensitive to Seasonal Affective Disorder, fewer hours of daylight means increased melatonin production in the pineal gland. Not much is known about this pea-sized gland, but scientists do know eye exposure to daylight or bright light causes the gland to stop producing melatonin. So to work effectively, a light therapy lamp needs to hit your eye and from a certain distance (6 to 18 inches) depending on the model. Before you hop on Amazon to buy the first light therapy lamp you see with 5 stars, there are a few other things you will need to know. Thanks to clinically proven and affordable options, light therapy is more accessible than ever.

What to Look For

10,000 Lux

You need to find a lamp that emits the right amount of light or it won’t work. Search for a light therapy lamp that emits at least 10,000 lux, which is about the same amount you would get from walking outside on a sunny day.

Designed to treat SAD

It should go without saying that you should buy a lamp that is specifically designed to treat people with SAD. Some lamps are made for other functions like adjusting sleep/wake cycles, healing wounds, or reducing pain and inflammation.

Clinically tested

A clinically tested lamp means it has undergone research to prove its effectiveness in treating SAD. A quick search on Amazon can help you find light therapy lamps currently on the market that have been tested. If it’s not listed in the description, you should take a hard pass.

Nice-to-Haves

The features below aren’t necessary, but they’re certainly convenient especially if you’re sensitive to bright light or prefer warm over cool light. Psychiatrists have found that a light therapy lamp is also helpful for reducing jet lag. So if you’re on the road a lot between time zones, or you’d like to travel with your lamp, look for a portable design and rechargeable battery.

  • Dimmer settings
  • Color settings
  • Slim/portable design
  • Battery operated/rechargeable for travel

If you’ve made it this far, you deserve to know a couple more ways a light therapy lamp can help heal you. According to Environmental Health Perspectives, they have also been found to be effective against insomnia and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). So whether or not you suffer from SAD, adding a light therapy lamp to your home or office may be worth the investment. 

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