Seasonal affective disorder is said to affect as many as one in three people in the UK, leaving them feeling depressed and lethargic over the winter.
Brought on by the long nights and short days, SAD sufferers tend to experience low energy and motivation, restless sleep, lethargy, and low spirits - all caused by the decrease in light levels during the winter. Luckily, there’s an easy fix: SAD lamps.
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What is a SAD lamp?
SAD lamps and light boxes are designed to produce light that’s similar to natural outdoor light from the sun (as opposed to regular artificial light), hopefully resulting in boosted energy levels and higher spirits in general.
How do I use a SAD lamp?
Optimum usage varies by device - so it’s always worth checking the instructions - but generally you’re recommend to use it for at least an hour every day, while you’re awake (and your eyes are open) and sitting fairly close.
You could keep the lamp on your desk while you work, sit next to it while you watch the TV, or use it as a lamp while you read.
SAD light buying advice
When looking for a SAD light brightness is one of the main concerns. Ideally look for one rated to at least 2,500 lux, though 10,000 or higher is better if possible. You’ll also want to make sure it’s medically certified to treat SAD, and isn’t just a regular lamp.
Blue light treatment can have an even stronger effect - though be warned, this is the sort of light that can disrupt sleep, so you won’t want it on just before bed. There are dedicated blue light lamps, as well as some SAD lamps that let you switch between types of light.
Alongside SAD light boxes you can also buy light alarms - also known as wake-up lights or dawn simulators. These are alarm clocks that slowly build up light in the morning to wake you gently. They've been shown clinically to help treat some of the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, which is why we've included some below, but it's worth noting that they are not full treatments, and generally aren't anywhere near as bright as proper SAD lamps.
We have a dedicated guide to the best light alarms too, so check that out if you’re tempted. They can be a great complement to a SAD light - or a solution for people who struggle on dark winter mornings but haven't been diagnosed with SAD - but on their own won't treat all the symptoms of SAD.
Lumie Vitamin L
Lumie’s Vitamin L SAD Lamp is slim, slight and simple enough to look stylish in any room. It’s incredibly bright, but manages not to be harsh thanks to its rippled design - it can illuminate a whole bedroom or small living room if you want it to. The entirety of its large rectangular surface lights up for optimum exposure.
It needs to be plugged in, but the cable is long enough that you can pop the lamp on a bedside table or a desk. It can stand in portrait or landscape position thanks to its kickstand, and the only button or control is the on/off button on the back.
The effects of the lamp will vary from person to person, so it’s tricky to offer a verdict on whether or not it’ll work for you, but 30 minutes whilst getting ready for work made us feel noticeably more awake and alert in the morning.
It’s one of the cheaper SAD lamps we’ve seen, but others with higher price tags often include alarm clocks or wake up features. If you have been diagnosed with SAD (seasonal affective disorder), you are eligible for VAT relief on this product, which means you can purchase it for £75 from Lumie’s website. Otherwise, with VAT included it’s typically priced at £90 and is available from Amazon, or for from John Lewis.
Philips EnergyUp SAD light
While the Vitamin L is a solid option for those looking for a SAD lamp, it's not the most portable device on the market. Those that want to take a SAD lamp between home and work should consider Philips' EnergyUp - known as the GoLite Blu in the US.
Its small form factor (143x143x35mm) allows it to slip into a bag (or even a large pocket) for no-fuss transport while still offering the ability to make a noticeable difference on your mood - even with fairly limited use.
Despite only offering around 200 lux, the blue light of Philips' EnergyUp SAD light should provide a similar effect to a standard 10,000 lux light. And unlike with some SAD lights, you don't need to look directly at the EnergyUp - simply put it at arm's length and go about your business.
The blue light doesn't create any kind of glare, and can easily be used both when working and relaxing. Those that do find it distracting can adjust the brightness, with three presets to switch between.
There's no denying it's expensive, and it doesn't offer any smart capabilities, but you'll struggle to find a better-engineered portable SAD light.
Lumie Zest SAD & wake-up light
In the past we've separated SAD lamps and wake-up lights into two different methods of light therapy... but what if you could have both? The Lumie Zest is the answer.
This compact little dedicated SAD light box boasts up to 10,000 lux output and adjustable brightness levels to suit your tastes. For light therapy, you can set it on a choice of brightness and timer settings, and use the adjustable stand to position it towards your face for the most effective light therapy.
The wake-up light has a 15 or 30 minute sunrise option, along with a snooze option. The blue-enriched white LEDs give off the impression of natural daylight coming into your room, making it a gentle light to wake-up to. You can set an optional beeping sound, but you can't choose any other soothing sounds as you can on dedicated wake-up lights.
The Lumie Zest does need to be plugged in all the time, but because it's so small you can take it around your home easily. It may not offer all the same features as some of the dedicated products, but this little hybrid definitely packs a punch - and is most importantly a class IIa medical device.
Lumie Bodyclock Shine 300
Erring on the expensive side but with good reason is this fully featured SAD light alarm from Lumie. Of the five models the company sells it sits in the middle of the range and offers granular control over your wake up and bedtime routines, with a mixture of sounds and light settings at your disposal.
It has mixed LEDs that shine realistic combinations of white, orange and red to create a sunlight effect that isn’t too blinding and can increase and decrease gradually over 15-90 minutes at up to 20 different light levels.
While it's primarily sold as a wake-up alarm, this is also medically certified for light therapy purposes. If you've been diagnosed with SAD you'll probably still want a dedicated SAD light box, but a light alarm is a handy complement to it, giving you an energy boost when you probably need it the most.
We opted for the maximum brightness scale over 30 minutes and found we were waking up naturally, also setting an alarm at the end of the time as a safe measure (we still don’t trust we’ll wake up with just the light!).
The alarm can be a beep or preset sounds like a stream train (weird), ping pong (also weird), waves (more conventional), or the in-built FM radio. Annoyingly if you turn it off at the mains all the settings reset to factory, which is pretty annoying, and the buttons on the unit mean it’s a fiddle to set up but once it’s working it’s a great product.
Lumie Bodyclock Spark 100
If you like the sound of the Shine 300 but don't quite want to spend that much, you might want to consider the Spark 100, a cheaper model in the same Bodyclock range.
Like its more expensive sibling this is primarily a light alarm, but can be a helpful complement to a dedicated SAD lamp or light box.
You can use it either as a light alarm to wake up or with a sunset mode to go to sleep, with customisable light intensity over the 30-minute modes.
Unlike the Shine 300 you can't change the duration of either the sunrise or sunset, and the audio options are also more limited: the only wake-up option is a beep, with none of the soothing waves or FM radio options available.
The more annoying omission is the inability to set an alarm schedule. While you can save a default time, you'll still need to remember to turn the alarm on every night before you go to sleep - enough of a risk that we can't imagine relying exclusively on this as your daily alarm.