Seasonal affective disorder could 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 and you live in the UK, you can claim back the VAT on products designed to help with symptoms. Find out more by reading government guidance.
Some of the lamps also feature 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.
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
- Not harsh light
- Well priced
- Must be plugged in at all times
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.
Lumie Zest SAD & wake-up light - Dual functionality
- 10,000 lux
- Wake-up light
- Class 2a medical device
- Must be plugged in
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 2a medical device.
Lumie Bodyclock Shine 300 - Medically certified for light therapy
- Sounds & light options
- Medically certified
- Resets when unplugged
This alarm is on the more expensive side but with good reason. The Bodyclock Shine 30 is a fully featured 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 SAD Desklamp - Best desktop SAD lamp
- 4 brightness settings
- Other features limited
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.
Some SAD light boxes feature 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. It's worth noting that, alone, they are not full treatments, and generally aren't anywhere near as bright as dedicated SAD lamps.