Seasonal affective disorder is thought to affect as many as one in three people in the UK, leaving them depressed and exhausted over the winter months.
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. But a good SAD lamp can help to ease the symptoms.
A SAD lamp or light box is designed to mimic the natural outdoor light we miss during the winter months, and stimulate the same physiological response in users.
If you’ve been diagnosed with SAD, you can claim back the VAT on products designed to help with symptoms.
We have also included light alarms that can help SAD sufferers wake up more easily in the mornings. They reproduce the stages of early daylight to allow you to wake naturally, and can be a huge help to people struggling with a lack of light in their winter routines.
These can be a good complement to a SAD light. Bear in mind, however, that unless it’s specifically mentioned, they won’t treat SAD symptoms when used alone.
For more general light alarm options, have a look at our guide to the best light alarms. And, to get the best rest possible when you most need it, check out our ultimate guide to choosing a mattress.
For more information on SAD lamps, and for buying advice, read on after the chart.
The Best SAD Lamps
Lumie Vitamin L – Simplest to use
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 has 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 switch 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 while getting ready for work made us feel noticeably more awake and alert in the morning.
It’s one of the best priced SAD lamps we’ve seen, but others with higher price tags often include alarm clocks or wake-up features, while this is a straightforward, simple solution.
Philips EnergyUp SAD light – Portable option
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 who 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 (143 x 143 x 35mm) 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 some SAD lights, you don’t need to look directly at the EnergyUp. Simply place 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 when working or relaxing. If you find it distracting, you can adjust the brightness from among three presets.
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 – Dual functionality
The Lumie Zest has dual functionality. It’s both a SAD lamp and a wake-up light.
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 function. The blue-enriched white LEDs give the impression of natural daylight coming into your room, making it a gentle light to wake up to. You can set an optional beeping alarm, 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 move 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 most importantly, it’s a class IIa medical device.
Lumie Bodyclock Shine 300 – Most features in a SAD light
It’s on the more expensive side but that’s with good reason. The Bodyclock Shine 30 is a fully featured SAD light alarm from Lumie. It 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 combinations of white, orange and red to create a realistic 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, it’s 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 woke up naturally. However, you can set the alarm at the end of that time period if you don’t trust you’ll wake up using the light alone.
The alarm can be set to beep or use one of the preset sounds including a stream train (unusual), ping pong (also odd), waves (more conventional), or the inbuilt FM radio.
Annoyingly, if you turn it off at the mains all the settings reset to factory, and the buttons on the unit mean it’s fiddly to set up. However, once it’s up and running, it’s an excellent product.
Lumie Bodyclock Spark 100 – Best budget light alarm
If you like the sound of the Shine 300 but want a more budget-friendly option, 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 it 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, which is a slight flaw in an otherwise excellent product.
Philips Somneo Sleep and Wake-Up Light – Best design in a light alarm
Like the Lumie light alarms, the Philips Somneo isn’t a SAD light – it only goes up to 315 lux, nowhere near the 2,500 required to be certified a dedicated SAD treatment – but it will help with some symptoms of the disorder.
This is arguably the best light alarm on the market other than that, and is mostly held back by its price, although it’s arguably worth it for the feature set and the wild space age design.
Instead of physical buttons, there are simple touchscreen controls built into the light itself, which you can use to customise your sunrise and sunset settings, with a range of light intensities, timings, and soothing noises from birdsong to temple gongs.
You can save two different alarm presets. However, you can’t schedule them for specific days, so you’ll have to remember to switch off your weekday alarm when Saturday rolls around.
In addition to a sunset mode for falling asleep, there’s a light-guided breathing mode to help you fall asleep. Beyond that, there are modern touches throughout: tapping the top to snooze, a dedicated low intensity light if you wake up in the middle of the night, FM radio, AUX input if you want to fall asleep to sounds from your phone, and even a USB-A slot to charge your phone.
Lumie SAD Desklamp – Best desktop SAD lamp
This SAD lamp from Lumie doubles as a table lamp. It has four brightness settings which you can cycle through by tapping the base, but you won’t find any other features such as timers or alarms – which may underwhelm some, considering that the Desklamp costs over £100.
Compared to other SAD lamps, the design is basic, with an adjustable neck and a smooth plastic finish. It’s not battery operated, so it will have to remain plugged in for use.
The Desklamp’s style is quite severe and clinical (it doesn’t surprise us that it’s a Class 2a medical device). We found it to be fairly chunky too.
The light itself, however, is clear and bright at 10,000 lux at full strength – which makes it a great study or work lamp if you wanted to integrate it into your day-to-day life. It comes with a detachable diffuser.
Lumie recommends sitting under the light for 60 minutes a day, or 30 minutes a day with the diffuser removed.
How do I use a SAD lamp?
Recommendations can vary by device, so it’s always worth checking the instructions. As a rule of thumb, however, you should use it for at least an hour every day.
You need to be awake, with your eyes open, and sitting fairly close to the light. You could keep the lamp on your desk while you work, while you watch the TV, or 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 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 an ordinary lamp.
Blue light treatment can have an even stronger effect, although it 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 different types of light.
To complement SAD light boxes, you can also buy light alarms, which are 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 clinically shown to help treat some of the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, which is why we’ve included some in the chart above. It’s worth noting that they are not full treatments, and generally aren’t anywhere near as bright as dedicated SAD lamps.
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