As the nights start to draw in and the days get shorter, you might feel slightly gloomy. According to science (and who can argue with science?), this is a normal reaction and has been given a name: Seasonal Affective Disorder (Sad). Sad lamps can help combat symptoms by providing you with a blast of light.
Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, says, “If you have Sad, you might experience some of the signs and symptoms: lack of energy, finding it hard to concentrate, not wanting to see people, sleep problems, feeling sad, changes in appetite, being more prone to colds and infections, loss of interest in sex or physical contact, suicidal feelings or other signs of depression. But it’s different for different people, and can vary season to season.”
Sad lamps are special bright lights, which you sit in front of. It’s thought the bright lights hit your retina and trigger the brain to stop making so much melatonin, which will help lift your mood.
It’s often recommended to use a Sad lamp during the morning so that it doesn’t cause insomnia, but it’s also a case of trying different times of day and duration to find something that works for you. You need to use the light consistently, but the good news is that if light therapy is going to work for you it should work within the first week.
When choosing a Sad lamp, think about how you might use it. If you’re sitting at a desk, you may want one that fits in a small space. Or perhaps if you’re using it at breakfast then you’ll have more space for something larger.
For light therapy to work you need a specific Sad lamp – sitting in front of a regular household lamp won’t do the job. You need the light to be more than 10 times the intensity of a normal domestic light (around 2,500 lux at least, but 10,000 lux is optimal if using it for 30 minutes a day).
It is important to check whether light therapy is right for you. You can ask your GP for more details, but it’s not suitable for those with certain conditions such as eye damage, light sensitivity and bipolar affective disorder, as well as people on certain medications.
How we tested
We put a series of Sad lamps through their paces over more than 30 hours to find the ones that made us feel, well, lighter. We were particularly interested in the lux levels, but also kept an eye on the design and if it looked nice in our home or if we found we tucked it away. And of course, how easy they were to use. So let’s see which ones lightened our mood.
The best Sad lights are:
- Best overall – Beurer TL 45 perfect day daylight: £84.99, Johnlewis.com
- Best wake-up light - Philips sleep and wake-up light: £189.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for easy to use - Lumie vitamin L Sad light: £90.00, Lumie.com
- Best looking Sad lamp - Lumie halo light therapy lamp: £199, Lumie.com
- Best value - Osalis energy light box: £41.66, Stressnomore.co.uk
- Best compact Sad lamp - Lifelight SAD therapy lamp: £74.99, Lifemaxdirect.co.uk
Beurer TL 45 perfect day daylight
- Max lux level: 10,000 lux at 20cm
- Light colour: White and yellow
Not just a Sad light, this lamp also has active and relax settings. These three settings (with the third being therapy) are easy to toggle between using the sensitive buttons at the bottom of the box. Looking first at the therapy mode, which is what we’re really here for, the brightness is a cool white light that is about 6,500 kelvins (k). Kelvins relate to the temperature of the light. This mimics midday light – the lamp is meant to be placed about 20cm from you for best results. We can attest this feels very brilliant and definitely made us feel, well, sunnier after using it.
The active mode is a warmer 5,000k, and is designed to help you concentrate. We were dubious about this, but we did feel it made us feel a bit more alert and focused when we used it while working. However, it dominated our laptop screen’s brightness, which probably isn’t ideal. The last setting, relax, is a cosy 3,000k and is meant to mimic the light at sunset. Certainly it wasn’t quite as blissful basking in this as, say, sat on holiday with a sundowner watching the sun set, but it did feel calming.
The light isn’t alarmingly pretty, but is lightweight and comes with a stand integrated. We found it small enough to nestle on our desk while we worked, but would work equally well at the breakfast table or coffee table.
Philips sleep and wake-up light
Best: Wake-up light
- Max lux level: 315 lux
- Light colour: Orange, white, yellow
If you really struggle to get out of bed on dark winter mornings, then this wake-up light could be the answer (sadly doesn’t do the rainy school run for you though). The light is circular with a hole in the middle – light an uber stylish light up polo mint. It stimulates sunrise and sunset, which you can adjust the timings for. In the morning the light gradually gets brighter and brighter to gently wake you. It starts as red and then eventually becomes a bright yellow light.
You can also ask it to accompany the light with gentle sounds – both on wake up and sunset functions. And if that’s not enough then you can also listen to FM radio through it, if you prefer to be woken by the dulcet tones of Greg James. And at night it can take you through relaxing breathing exercises, which you follow based on the light intensity.
We found it really easy to use this lamp – all the settings are easy to access by touching the lamp. The lamp has a touch screen inside it to control everything. This also shows the time all the time, but you can switch it off completely. The sounds it plays were actually much more pleasant than the rush hour noise outside our window – waking up to birds cheeping was much more preferable. Although the lux on this lamp aren’t going to qualify it for proper light therapy, it definitely did help us get out of bed more easily in the morning – we still weren’t springing out, but it did put us in a better mood.
Lumie vitamin L Sad light
Best: For easy to use
- Max lux level: 10,000 lux at 16cm
- Light colour: Cool white
Great if you travel a lot or want to take a Sad lamp to work, it’s super slim and lightweight. It barely takes up any room either, so great for a desk or perhaps even a kitchen worktop while you make the packed lunches.
It’s super easy to use – just plug in, switch on and go. We really liked the versatility of this lamp – it can be used in portrait or landscape orientations, and fitted in easily with daily life. Plus it doesn’t look ugly either.
Lumie halo light therapy lamp
Best: Looking Sad lamp
- Max lux level: 10,000 lux at 20cm
- Light colour: Warm white and cool white
We never thought we’d find ourselves saying this, but this here is a gorgeous Sad lamp. The bowl-like lamp has been designed to look great in your home. The outer bowl is lined with a copper colour, which shines warmly when you turn on the backlight by tapping it. We found this function was a bit annoying to get working as it’s not quite sensitive enough to your touch. The inner light, which is where the magic (read: therapy) happens, is also operated by tapping it on the top. There’s also a touch slider at the top where you can adjust the colour temperature and a button to toggle between day and evening modes.
The day mode uses warm-white and cool-white LEDs to let you vary the colour temperature (3,000-5,000k) and brightness. At its brightest, the halo stimulates the same sort of light you’d get at midday during spring. The evening mode uses only the warm-white LEDs, eliminating any blue light that’ll stop you from nodding off. This light is designed for reading, relaxing and just casting a warm glow in the room.
This light combines form and function brilliantly – it’s nice to look at, and does the job well. It is fairly heavy though, so you might not want to move it around your home too much. However, it’d work really well on a desk or sideboard (it’s worth noting it should be 20cm from you for the full light-therapy effect though). We know this one is pretty price, but if you buy this lamp through Lumie you can also use it on a trial basis for 45 days.
Osalis energy light box
- Max lux level: 10,000 lux
- Light colour: Cool white, warm white and natural light
Amazing value for money, this lamp did what many other higher-priced items did for a fraction of the cost. It’s super lightweight and slim, so easy enough to slip in luggage or a laptop bag.
The box has touch controls along the bottom, where you can alter the brightness and set a timer function. We found this particularly useful to monitor how long we were using it for, so we didn’t OD on light and end up awake all night in some weird jetlagged haze. You can also cycle between warm white, cool white and natural light to give you more tailored therapy depending on what time of day you’re using it.
We really rated this light, which also has an adjustable stand, and this it’s excellent value for money.
Lifelight SAD therapy lamp
Best: Compact Sad lamp
This was certainly the most compact light we tried. The round light would work on a bedside table, in a nook of the kitchen or on a shelf. It still packs a punch though – it offers 10,000 lux through its LED panel. The brightness is adjustable using simple buttons on the top, with a 10-stage dimmer. And there’s a timer too with a progress light along the side so you can see how long you’ve set yourself up for. We rated this lamp for being small but mighty. While it’s perhaps not as premium as others we tried, we think it’s great for those with small spaces.
The verdict: Sad lamps
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