No recognized disease or disorder is more appropriately named than SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. Most people have heard of it by now; it’s the depression some suffer with during the cold and dark winter months, sapping their energy and disrupting their ability to live normal lives.
SAD is a very serious disorder, diagnosed by doctors, and the primary approach used to treat it is light therapy. “Light boxes” or light therapy lamps provide very bright, artificial light that readjusts the body’s melatonin production, circadian rhythms, and sleep patterns, bringing them more into line with “normal” summer patterns by making winter days seem longer. The treatment suggested most often is light therapy for at least 30 minutes, 3-4 mornings per week.
Winter may make a lot of us sad, but it doesn’t mean we have SAD. Only an estimated 6% of the population has medically-diagnosed SAD. However, another 15% of us are said to have mild seasonal mood disorders, meaning that cold and short days create the “winter blues.” Many have found that the same light therapy lamps used by SAD sufferers work wonders to ease these mild mood disorders with no serious negative effects.
None of the Your House Garden review team has SAD, but we’ve been amazed at the effectiveness of these lamps for overcoming the winter blahs. We’ll run down our choices for the top 5 best light therapy lamps after going a little more in-depth on the qualities and features you should be looking for.
Shedding Some Light on Light Therapy Lamps
SAD sufferers will receive specific recommendations from their doctor for the type of light box they should buy and how to use it. However, the rest of us are on our own, particularly since the government doesn’t approve or regulate light therapy lamps. That’s why Your House Garden has done its own research to find the types of therapy lamps that are most often suggested to patients.
How Many Lumens?
Key to the performance of these units is the intensity of the light the lamp generates, which is measured in units called “lux.” You’ll see intensity ratings from 2,500 to 10,000 lux and as you’d expect the lower the intensity, the more exposure to the light you will need. The most common recommended intensity is 10,000 lux – but that’s a bit misleading. Here’s why.
In reality, lux means lumens per square meter. If you sit too far away from a light box sold as a “10,000 lux” light therapy lamp, you won’t experience the intended benefits unless you use it for much more than 30 minutes. Each lamp’s specifications should spell out the ideal distance between your eyes and the light source, in order to ensure that the therapy lamp provides the desired results. There’s one other reason why the recommended distance is so important. A lamp that lets you sit a couple of feet away will be much more expensive than one requiring you to be just a foot from the light source, with the price difference often as high as hundreds of dollars.
The Size of the Light Therapy Lamp
A related issue is the size of the light therapy lamp. Manufacturers will take it into consideration when calculating the proper seating distance, but you should also know that light boxes can be “too small” to work effectively in most settings. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the better, but you should stay away from therapy lamps that are smaller than one square foot.
Type of Light Bulb
Light therapy lamps are available with blue LED lamps which supposedly boost melatonin production, but they haven’t been proven effective for SAD and many experts think that blue light can hurt the eyes over long periods of time. You’ll also see light boxes with regular (incandescent) light bulbs but they generate a lot of heat, not ideal when eyes are so close to the bulb for long sessions. The best lamps use white fluorescent or specialty lights, but some utilize “full-spectrum” bulbs that look much like sunlight – and emit ultraviolet light that’s very harmful to the eyes over time. If a therapy lamp does produce ultraviolet rays, be sure that it has an effective UV filter built in.
Other Factors To Consider When Buying a Light Therapy Box
A light therapy lamp isn’t like the one you use to illuminate your workspace or bedroom; it will usually be much brighter. That’s why so many good therapy lamps come with a diffuser screen, which spreads the light evenly and protects your eyes from dangerous “hot spots.” Diffusers are also combined with UV filters.
You’ll find light therapy lamps in a variety of sizes and shapes, allowing you to choose a model that fits best in the area where you want to place it, and being able to adjust the direction in which light is emitted (for example, with a gooseneck stand) is an obvious plus. What’s not so obvious is the benefit of therapy lamps that promise to deliver negative ions. As with air purifiers that produce negative ions, there have been no definitive scientific studies proving that ion therapy helps with SAD. But if you’re a believer, you’ll find products that will happily give you all the negative ions you want.
Got all that? Big. Let’s change that winter frown with 5 of the best light therapy lamps Your House Garden version that can be placed in the living room.
1. Carex Health Brands Day-Light Classic Plus Bright Light
You won’t find much disagreement with this selection; almost every expert agrees with the review team’s feeling that the Carex Day-Light Classic Plus outdistances the field. It delivers 10,000 lux at a distance of 12 inches (there’s also a lower power setting), the lightbox itself is quite large at 16” wide and 13” tall, it produces glare-free, warm white light with UV rays blocked, the lamp is mounted on a swivel and its stand has adjustable legs so the unit can stand as tall as 31 inches. (You don’t have to use the stand; you can also place the lightbox directly on a table and use the flip-out piece on the back as you would a picture frame.)
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This is a light therapy lamp that meets just about all of the criteria we’ve described as ideal.
Even the finest product comes with at least a small price (other than the one you pay with your credit card), and the Day-Light Classic Plus is no exception. The large lightbox and welcome maneuverability means this therapy lamp can be difficult to position and move, with a large weighted base with a footprint nearly a foot-and-a-half wide and a foot deep. Then again, a large model is recommended by doctors, so we consider it just “part of the deal.”
Speaking of price, this lamp isn’t cheap but it’s priced much lower than you’d expect for a high-quality light therapy unit.
The Carex Health Day-Light Classic is bulky but stable and well-built, and more importantly, it’s completely adjustable and has all the features doctors recommend for SAD and the winter blues. In fact, many doctors specifically recommend the Day-Light Classic.
Facts and figures on the Carex Health Brands Day-Light Classic Plus Bright Light:
2. Alaska Northern Lights Bright Light Therapy Box
We told you that you’d have to pay a lot more for a quality light therapy lamp that could be used at a distance, and we weren’t kidding. This terrific Northern Lights unit is also recommended by many doctors and delivers a full 10,000 lux at two feet, compared to one foot for the Day-Light Classic Plus – but it costs more than the Day-Light.
It’s around the same size but it isn’t as bulky or cumbersome, because the lightbox is the entire unit. It looks (and carries) like a suitcase, with no stands and no hassles. The downside is that it’s not adjustable; you’ll have to position the case exactly where you want your therapy lamp to go.
The Northern Lights therapy lamp has terrific mirror-finish reflectors for perfect light delivery along with a low-glare light diffuser to protect your eyes. It’s exceptionally quiet, there’s no flicker whatsoever and it has both UV and electromagnetic shielding. If you’re concerned about reliability, look no further; this product has been recommended by experts and used for more than twenty years – the Veterans’ Administration uses it exclusively – and comes with a full seven-year warranty.
The Alaska Northern Lights Therapy Lamp is pricey but a wonderful choice either for full-fledged SAD and the winter blues, and you don’t have to sit right on top of it to enjoy its benefits.
More details on the Alaska Northern Lights Bright Light Therapy Box:
3. Verilux HappyLight Deluxe Sunshine Simulator
This Verilux model is quite similar to the Your House Garden review team’s #1 choice, the Day-Light Classic. The price is similar, the output is the same at 10,000 lux of bright light (albeit with a blue tint), and it’s fully-effective at a slightly-preferable distance of 14 inches rather than 12 inches. It may not be recommended quite as highly by professionals, but the light therapy it produces is quite effective.
Then why does it rank below the Day-Light Classic? There are two reasons.
First, it’s not able to swivel or be adjusted in any other way; like the Northern Lights, it simply rests on a desk stand and you have to position yourself to take full advantage of the light, rather than doing it the other way around. (It’s also built to be mounted on the wall if that’s your preference).
Second, this plastic unit is not quite as sturdy, as represented by the fact that it only comes with a one-year warranty instead of the five years included with the Day-Light.
Not the very best but still quite good, the Verilux HappyLight will do the trick in relieving seasonal depression at a reasonable price.
A closer look at the Verilux HappyLight Deluxe Sunshine Simulator:
4. Circadian Optics Lumos 2.0 Light Therapy Lamp
Our budget choice is slim and sleek, provides a full 10,000 lux output, and has the added benefit of being configurable thanks to the hinges at the top, at the bottom and in the light panel itself. This allows you to choose the direction and angle of the lightthat works best for your chair or seating position.
The Circadian Optics Lumos full-spectrum light is UV-filteredand a close simulation of mid-afternoon sunlight, with a color temperature of 5500K. It’s best used at a distance of 12 to 18 inches for 30-60 minutes per day when set on “high.” (Independent measurements say that 8 inches is a better choice for the full 10,000 lux.) Unfortunately, the 2.0 version of this lamp is no longer rechargeable(via USB), as the initial version was.
This is a light, portable SAD lamp that isn’t as sturdy as more expensive models, and it’s not the right choice if you want a huge therapy lamp that will also light up an entire room. However, it’s convenient, very stylish, and works quite well.
More details on the Circadian Optics Lumos 2.0 Light Therapy Lamp:
5. Northern Lights Boxelite Bright Light Therapy Light Box
The review team really liked the Northern Lights Boxelite, but ended up placing it in the final spot on our top 5 best light therapy lamps rankings. It’s quite similar to our #2 choice which is also made by Northern Lights, but this model isn’t built in the shape of a transportable suitcase. It’s more of a standalone unit, sized 15 x 12 inches with a desk stand like our #1 and #3 choices, and it’s not adjustable.
Where the Boxelite stands out is that the 10,000 lux output has a generous effective range of 17 inches, a real benefit over most light boxes in the same general price range which only provide full benefit at 12 inches. However, this therapy light is at the high end of that price range, which knocked it down a little bit in our rankings. The light is also a little “warmer” (3500 degrees Kelvin) than that produced by our top three choices, which is one more reason the Boxelite comes in a bit lower on the Your House Garden list.
The Boxelite is a very good light therapy lamp for placement on a desk or table, and only a slight notch below our other preferred choices.
Digging deeper on the Northern Lights Boxelite Bright Light Therapy Light Box:
* Unfortunately it looks like this model might not be available right now, so please consider another light therapy lamp for now.
Anyone who’s done much comparison shopping knows that you have to give something in order to get something. What you get with the Lightphoria is a very attractive price, roughly half the cost of our #1 choice. What you have to give is convenience; in order to receive the full benefits of the 10,000 lux output you’ll have to sit about six inches away, and this unit is smaller than desirable (the light field is just 4½ by 2½ inches) so you’ll have be extremely careful positioning it.
There are lots of compensating factors, though. First of all, the Lightphoria weighs less than a pound so moving it and maneuvering it is simple. The light intensity is selectable so you can choose light emitted at 8000 or 5000 lux, it has a shut-off timer that can be set for 15, 30 or 45 minutes, and it’s perfect for travel because of its small size, lightweight, and 120/240 selectable voltage feature. There’s a desk stand and a wall-mount option.
The review team wouldn’t use the Lightphoria for its day-to-day light therapy lamp of choice, but its portability, effectiveness when positioned properly and low price makes it an interesting option.
More details on the Sphere Gadget Technologies Lightphoria:
If you need an extra bit of pampering to survive the winter, then how about a foot massage in the comfort of your own home whenever you want?