It’s winter again, and you’ve got your cold-weather gear: the ice scraper for your windshield, a bag of rock salt for the front steps and a whole wardrobe of hats and scarves. But what about the sun lamps—the popular name for light therapy devices—that are going to help prevent you from spiraling into depression caused by seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? Sadly, that’s probably not in your arsenal—at least not yet.
That’s too bad, since just minutes a day in front of a sun lamp (a 2009 National Institutes of Health study said even 20 minutes daily eases depression) and for as little as $40 per device, you can increase energy, stabilize your mood and overall feel better. That applies if you’ve just got a case of the winter blahs or the more serious condition of SAD, a clinical diagnosis that can be detected and managed with the help of a medical professional. At issue might be your level of Vitamin D, the so called “sunshine vitamin”. And since it takes our bodies about eight weeks to turn full-spectrum radiation (aka sunlight) into Vitamin D, that explains why months into our hibernation for winter, we start feeling the effects of seasonal depression. And there’s more—Vitamin D is believed to be key to brain synthesis of dopamine and serotonin, both key chemicals for keeping our moods boosted.
How do Sun Lamps Work?
While noted authorities like the Cleveland Clinic confirm that light therapy doesn’t actually create more Vitamin D in your body, it does aid the body’s regulation of melatonin and serotonin. Scientists believe that some animals and humans produce excess melatonin in winter, so those beings are sleepier. One way to eliminate some of that melatonin production is to expose yourself to longer periods of bright light than wintertime usually affords, thereby tricking your body into thinking that nights are shorter than they actually are, and assuring your body it doesn’t need to produce as much sleepy-making melatonin as it does for you to, basically, hibernate.
It’s suggested that users sit in front of the light for as little as 30 minutes a day, but don’t stare directly into the light, as it can cause eye strain. You can do some work or read while you’re light bathing or half-close your eyes. One friend uses her light therapy time to lower her eyes and meditate. How you best enjoy your sun lamp session is as unique as your circumstances, so finding the right lamp for your needs can be the difference between actually using it and relegating it to the garage.
The Best Sun Lamps for 2021 At a Glance
• Best All-Around Design: Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Bright Light Therapy Lamp
• Best for Offices: PureGuardian SPA Energy Light
• Best for Commuting: Luminette Drive
• Best Wearable: AYOlite Light Therapy Glasses
•. Best Budget Option: Vipex Light Therapy Lamp Rechargeable
• Best Wake Up Light: Phillips SmartSleep Sleep and Wake Up Light Therapy Lamp
• Best Portable Design: TaoTronics Light Therapy Lamp
• Best Standing Lamp: Northern Light Technologies Flamingo 10,000 Lux Bright Light Therapy Floor Lamp
• Best for Students: Verilux HappyLight Lucent Light Therapy Lamp
• Sleekest Design: Northern Light Technologies Luxor 10,000 Bright Light Therapy Pyramid Lamp
1. Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Bright Light Therapy Lamp
Best All-Around Design
This lamp’s got an edge on other models, since it comes with a stand that allows you to lift it up to 31 inches. Yup, that means it can shine the light down on you, just like the sun. Its large face (more than 15 x 13 inches) means that it radiates over a wide area, and the manufacturer says that it emits the gold standard of 10,000 LUX up to 12 inches from the user’s face, while other lamps require you get as close as four inches. While this rather hulking lamp isn’t going to easily blend into your home decor, seeing it around will be a strong reminder to get your daily dose of faux sunshine.
2. PureGuardian SPA Energy Light
Best for Offices
A smidge smaller than a piece of printer paper, this light can be discreetly set up on your desk and it radiates 10,000 LUX of LED light. It’s equipped with a five to 30-minute timer and a switch that lets you toggle between white and blue tints, depending on whichever you prefer.
3. Luminette Drive
Best for Commuting
This slender device attaches to the visor of your car and emits light that’s free from harmful UV and infrared rays. It directs light in a 45-degree angle over your face and is effective after just 20 minutes of use. The company has used its 468 wavelength blue light, which differs from tabletop light therapy technologies IN TK WAY, with success in environments including a hospital department with no access to natural light. Plus, the brand boasts that turning it on for a night drive is equivalent to having a cup of coffee.
4. AYOlite Light Therapy Glasses
Can’t imagine sitting still for 20 minutes or longer? A pair of wearable light therapy glasses are an easy solution. This little folding pair sits parallel with your brow line and shines light downward, so your vision isn’t obstructed but you still reap the benefits of blue light. Users report that using it for 20 minutes upon awakening keeps them energized all day, without needing an afternoon nap.
5. Vipex Light Therapy Lamp Rechargeable
Best Budget Option
Only ten inches tall, this little gizmo packs all the extras, like a rechargeable battery that can last up to three hours on one charge and pure white light of 10,000 LUX, a timer that lets you set it to 20, 30 and 45 minutes and a 90-degree adjustable stand.
6. Phillips SmartSleep Sleep and Wake Up Light Therapy Lamp
Best Wake Up Light
“The lamp does a nice job of simulating soft morning, from red through orange and then brighter yellow light,” says one reviewer, who backs Phillips’s claim that this lamp makes getting out of bed easier in the morning. “Sound options for waking up are good with nature sounds, ambient music or five presets for FM radio,” the reviewer continues. There’s also a function that allows you to time the length of your “sunrise” for up to 30 minutes, in case you want to slowly wake up with the 11-inch around light source beaming over from your bedside table.
7. TaoTronics Light Therapy Lamp
Best Portable Design
The folding design of this lamp is innovative, and the way you just pull it open like a book and switch it on is an elegant solution to cumbersome stands of other models. The panels are 11 inches high, offering a wide expanse of 10,000 LUX LED light coming at you. We consider this to be a great lamp to put on our coffee table while we’re sipping a cup of morning Joe.
8. Northern Light Technologies Flamingo 10,000 Lux Bright Light Therapy Floor Lamp
Best Standing Lamp
Leave it to the Canadians to come up with this sturdy and trustworthy standing light therapy device. Position it in front of your treadmill or exercise bike or next to the Mirror, radiating its happiness at you while you’re sweating and producing endorphins. It’s enough to make you not care if spring ever comes.
9. Verilux HappyLight Lucent LED
Best for Students
“This is a great little light. I have definitely noticed a change in my energy levels,” says one student. “I purchased to help stay awake in my 8 a.m. winter online classes and it’s a game changer!” Consider us sold on this compact eight- by six-inch sun lamp that can be positioned horizontally or vertically, to best shine right by your laptop or text book and zap its 10,000 LUX stimulation to you.
10. Northern Light Technologies Luxor 10,000 Lux Bright Light Therapy Pyramid Lamp
Is it a sculpture? Is it a therapy device? Actually, it’s both. Not to mention, it’s certainly a conversation piece, since this pyramid-shaped light box measures 15 inches per side and at only four pounds, can be easily moved it to a pedestal or side table as a decorative object when not in use. “I bought this lamp for SAD. It really works for me and I have no trouble working with it sitting right on the desk next to me,” says one reviewer. “I love the shape, it's so much more attractive than the more traditional sun lamps.”
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