Best Light Therapy Lamps of 2020

A light therapy lamp can help restore mental well-being to individuals suffering from seasonal affective disorder. Our shopping guide is here to help you find the best light therapy lamp for your needs.

Spotlight on Happiness: How to Choose a Light Therapy Lamp

According to the Cleveland Clinic, around half a million people in the U.S. suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, while up to 20 percent may be mildly affected by the lower light of the winter season. SAD is defined as depression that occurs each year, beginning in the fall, worsening over the winter, and resolving in the spring. It's more common in women than men, and it's far more common in those who live in the northern states than in the south.

Treatment for SAD often includes medication along with cognitive-behavioral therapy, but since the 1980s, one of the mainstays of SAD treatment is light therapy, also called phototherapy.

If you suffer from the winter blues, you might benefit from a light therapy lamp. Choosing the right lamp, however, can be confusing. And that's where BestReviews comes in. We're here to help you choose the right products for a healthy, happy life.

If you're ready to buy a light therapy lamp now, consider the three featured in the matrix above. All are quality products we're proud to endorse. But if you'd like to learn more about SAD and light therapy lamps in general, read on. We'll delve into the details of SAD and discuss how to choose and use a light therapy lamp.

While it's okay to treat a mild case of the blues with light therapy, you should talk to your doctor if your depression is severe or interferes with your daily activities.

What Are Light Therapy Lamps, and How Do They Work?

Prior to the 1980s, most researchers didn't believe that seasonal changes affected humans, although many animals are strongly influenced by the seasons; think of hibernation, migration, food hoarding, and breeding behaviors. However, studies have since revealed that winter's reduced daylight does indeed throw off some people's circadian rhythm—the natural rhythm of our bodies in response to day and night, particularly our sleep/wake cycle—and that one way to restore mental well-being is exposure to very bright light that simulates springtime sunlight.

For maximum benefit, a light therapy lamp needs to deliver 10,000 lux—lux is a measurement of light's intensity—with a minimum of skin/eye-damaging UV rays. Most sufferers of SAD feel noticeable improvement within a week of starting daily light therapy.

Although many people think light therapy is absorbed through the skin, it works by entering your eyes, striking your retinas, and then stimulating your brain.

Shedding Light on the Right Light Therapy Lamp

There are two basic questions you need to ask when choosing a light therapy lamp:

  • Does the amount of light emitted meet the guidelines for effective therapy?
  • Will the lamp style be convenient to use?

Light Emission Guidelines
Current guidelines for light therapy to treat SAD require the light box to emit between 2,500 and 10,000 lux. There is no evidence that higher doses of light are more effective, and there are possible side effects of increased dosage, including eye damage. So, don't be tempted by a light box promising anything beyond 10,000 lux.

The major benefit of choosing a light therapy lamp that emits 10,000 lux over one with a lower dosage is time. At 10,000 lux, you only need to spend a quarter the amount of time sitting in front of the lamp each day as you would with a 2,500-lux light therapy lamp.

Keep the following general rules in mind when you engage in light therapy:

  • A light therapy lamp of 2,500 lux requires one to two hours of exposure per treatment.
  • A light therapy lamp of 8,000 lux requires 45 minutes to one hour of exposure per treatment.
  • A light therapy lamp of 10,000 lux requires 15 to 30 minutes of exposure per treatment.

Along with sufficient lux, your light therapy lamp should emit white light, and it must have a UV filter to prevent damage to your skin and eyes.

Which Light Therapy Lamp Style Is Convenient for You?
Most light therapy lamps are designed to sit on a desk or table during use, so if you plan to do your treatment at the office, while sitting at your kitchen table, or in a home office, you'll probably find a desktop-style lamp the easiest to work into your schedule.

If you travel a lot, look for a light therapy lamp that folds up for use on the go.

If you want to use your therapy lamp while sitting on the couch, on an exercise bike, or anywhere a desk isn't handy, consider a floor-lamp design.


Mornings Are a Great Time to Schedule Your Daily Light Therapy Sessions

Try to schedule your light therapy sessions for the same time each day. A suitable time would be early in the morning, shortly after you get out of bed.

Other Features to Consider

Once you've determined the style of light box you want, it's time to consider other features.

Size: You'll find a range of light therapy lamp sizes, but in general, the larger the better. Your entire face should be bathed in light for the best results. Otherwise, not enough light will enter your eyes directly.

Range: You need to sit close to your light therapy lamp for effective treatment—typically within 12 to 14 inches. Some lamps have a slightly larger range than that. This can be convenient if you want a little freedom of movement during your session.

Timer: A light therapy lamp with a built-in timer lets you focus on other matters while receiving your light therapy.

Adjustable Angle: To avoid eye damage, your light therapy lamp should aim slightly below your direct line of sight. An adjustable lamp makes that easy to achieve.

Negative Ions: While there are no conclusive studies showing benefits to a light therapy lamp that emits negative ions, some people feel they help reduce depression and improve mood.

Intensity Settings: Some lamps let you adjust the intensity to high or low, allowing for personal tolerance to the bright light.

Wall Mount: If you'd prefer to mount your light therapy lamp to a wall, choose a model with a mounting kit. But remember that you need to be within a foot or so of the light for therapeutic results.

Full-Spectrum Light: Full-spectrum light is most like natural daylight, and it may have psychological benefits, but there are no studies proving it works better than white light for treating SAD.

Blue Light: Although there is some evidence that blue light is effective at regulating circadian rhythms, it has not been studied as extensively as white light for treating SAD.

Simply changing your indoor light bulbs to full-spectrum bulbs won't relieve SAD, as regular light bulbs aren't bright enough for therapeutic benefits.

How Much Should You Spend on a Light Therapy Lamp?

If you suffer from SAD, a light therapy lamp is an investment in your health and well-being. Still, you don't have to break the bank to purchase one of these devices. You'll find excellent light therapy lamps for less than $100, but if you want more features, expect to pay between $100 and $200.

A good light therapy lamp is one that has been tested in peer-reviewed clinical trials or calibrated by an independent lab to show conformity with recognized guidelines in treating SAD.

Light Therapy Tips

Plan on spending time with your light therapy lamp each day during the winter months. The usual guidelines for light therapy include the following:

  • Try to use your light therapy lamp shortly after waking up each morning.
  • Sit within a foot or so of the lamp—no closer than 6 inches, however, and no further than the range indicated on your specific device.
  • Keep your eyes open while receiving light treatment, but don't stare directly at the lamp.
  • If your light therapy lamp emits 10,000 lux, your treatment time should be at least 15 minutes, but 30 minutes can be more effective.


Check That Your Light Therapy Lamp Is Large Enough to Provide Optimum Results

Generally, a light therapy lamp should be at least 12 square inches to provide enough consistent light to your eyes. Smaller lamps are unlikely to provide optimal treatment.


Q. Will health insurance cover the cost of my light therapy lamp?
A. Give your insurance provider a call and ask, but be aware that the majority of health insurance providers will not cover light therapy for SAD, as the treatment is not FDA-evaluated or regulated. Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, however, recommend light therapy as mainstream treatment for seasonal affective disorder.

Q. Are there any possible dangers or side effects to light therapy?
A. For most people, there is little danger to using a light therapy lamp. However, some people may experience mild eye strain, headache, irritability, or nausea. If you suffer from any serious eye disorder or have a skin sensitivity to light, check with your doctor before starting light therapy. People with bipolar disorder need to be especially cautious, as the intense light could trigger an attack of mania.

Q. What are the symptoms of SAD?
A. As a form of depression, SAD has similar symptoms to depression, including loss of interest in formerly enjoyed activities, irritability, "the blues" or sad feelings, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, or difficulty concentrating. The symptoms generally come on during the fall, intensify over the winter, and then begin to let up in the spring.

A light therapy lamp is also known by some as a light box.
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