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Are you at risk for seasonal depression? Experts say a light therapy lamp could help

11 best SAD light therapy lamps for seasonal depression in 2023

older man smiling standing in front of light therapy lamp in a dark room, seasonal affective disorder light therapy lamp
What is seasonal affective disorder and how do you treat it? Read on to learn more. (Photo via Getty)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

No one expects winter to be tropical, but for many vitamin D-starved Canadians, a little sunshine would be appreciated. Residents in southern Ontario haven't seen the sun since the end of 2022, and for those out west, the nickname "Raincouver" bears painfully true.

With more gloomy winter weather on the horizon, avoiding the "winter blues" or seasonal depression is on the minds of many across the country.

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that rears its ugly head during certain times of the year, which for most people, is fall and winter. While some experience SAD-like symptoms in the summer, many of its markers, including low energy and mood, problems with sleep and appetite, loss of interest and reduced concentration, can be triggered by fewer hours of daylight during fall and winter.

According to Dr. Raymond Lam, a professor at the University of British Columbia and BC leadership chair in depression research, the main factor in SAD is latitude. The farther you are from the equator, the higher your chance of experiencing the "winter blues."

"One of the major theories is that [SAD] is a disturbance of the biological clock in our brains, so it becomes like a form of jetlag," Lam told Yahoo Canada. "Our clocks are mostly synchronized by natural light, so people with SAD may not be able to adjust to the changing levels of day length in the winter."

Who is at risk for seasonal depression?

Researchers estimate that SAD is more common in countries with fewer winter daylight hours, including Canada, the United States and the U.K.

In Canada, it's estimated that 1-3 per cent of the general population has SAD, with the less serious "winter blues" impacting roughly 15 per cent of Canadians.

Additionally, studies from the University of Utah suggest that women are far more likely than men to experience seasonal affective disorder. Of those people affected by SAD, four out of five are women.

young black woman with curly hair wearing sweater staring out of rain window
Of those people affected by seasonal affective disorder, four out of five are women (Photo via Getty)

Does light therapy really work?

If you think you have seasonal affective disorder, you should first and foremost talk to your doctor. They can help rule out any other causes of mood changes, like depression or anemia and may even suggest trying a light therapy lamp.

Light therapy, which involves exposure to bright, artificial light, is an effective tool for treating SAD, according to many researchers. A study from the University of British Columbia found that 60-70 per cent of participants that partook in light therapy saw a significant improvement in their symptoms.

"The evidence is promising that light therapy is helpful for those with winter depression," according to Lam.

How to use a light therapy lamp

To effectively use a light therapy lamp, Lam suggests sitting under one for 30 minutes as soon as possible upon waking.

Your eyes need to be open for the lamp to work as the "effect is through the eyes," he says. Most light therapy lamps emit 10,000 lux of light, a light illumination unit.

"To compare, social lighting (i.e. indoors in the evening) is less than 100 lux," Lam says. "500 lux is a very bright office or a very bright kitchen. 5,000 lux is outdoors on a cloudy day, whereas outdoors on a sunny day is 50,000-100,000 lux or more. So when we're talking about 10,000 lux, we're talking about somewhere between indoor and outdoor sunny day lighting."

woman sitting at kitchen table with breakfast sitting next to light therapy lamp
Lam suggests sitting by a light therapy lamp for 30 minutes as soon as possible upon waking. (Photo via Getty)

The lux rating depends on the distance of the light source to your eyes, "so the smaller the device, the closer it has to be to your eyes."

"The benefit of larger lights is that you can sit farther away and be more comfortable," he says. "We normally recommend the larger ones that sit on your tabletop or desk."

Encouragingly, Lam says light therapy can also be effective for treating non-seasonal depression year-round, a fact echoed in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

"Light therapy is very helpful for people with both SAD and the winter blues," he tells Yahoo Canada. Additionally, it "seems to also be effective for non-seasonal depression at other times in the year."

11 best light therapy lamps, according to reviewers

Verilux HappyLight VT10 Compact

woman doing yoga on yoga mat next to happy lamp, Verilux HappyLight VT10 Compact (Photo via Amazon)
Verilux HappyLight VT10 Compact (Photo via Amazon)

Average rating: 4.5 stars

The details: This "Amazon's Choice" pick for SAD lamps delivers up to 10,000 LUX intensity for effective light therapy and has a simple on/off operation.

Promising review: One shopper says they had a "more uplifted mood" almost immediately and that repeated use of the lamp has helped them avoid "depressive periods in the middle of the day."

$40 $50 at Amazon

JolyWell Light Therapy Lamp

JolyWell Light Therapy Lamp (Photo via Amazon)
JolyWell Light Therapy Lamp (Photo via Amazon)

Average rating: 4.5 stars

The details: This "Amazon's Choice" lamp has customizable brightness levels from 20 per cent to 100 per cent with a simple touch of the button. It simulates natural daylight at 6500K and measures just under six inches by eight inches.

Promising review: The lamp is a "great remedy for [the] winter blues," writes one shopper. It's "easy to operate" and "packs a punch" despite its small size.

$43 at Amazon

Lastar Sunlight Lamp

Lastar Sunlight Lamp (Photo via Amazon)
Lastar Sunlight Lamp (Photo via Amazon)

Average rating: 4.4 stars

The details: This glare-free sunlight lamp provides 10,000 LUX of UV-free LED light to combat the effects of the "winter blues."

Promising review: One Amazon shopper says the lamp has "noticeably helped" his mood and praises is for its "handsome design."

$50 at Amazon

Verilux HappyLight Lucent

Verilux HappyLight Lucent on desk with pencil crayons and paper (Photo via Amazon)
Verilux HappyLight Lucent (Photo via Amazon)

Average rating: 4.5 stars

The details: This "Amazon's Choice" light therapy lamp delivers up to 10,000 LUX for effective, safe and natural light therapy. It features a detachable stand and is wall-mountable. The lamp comes backed by more than 6,600 reviews, 5,000 of which are five-star.

Promising review: One shopper calls the lamp a "must-have" in the winter. The reviewer praises the device for not only improving their mental health but "supporting pain management" and "improving [their] quality of rest."

$53 $60 at Amazon

OttLite ClearSun LED Light Therapy Lamp

OttLite ClearSun LED Light Therapy Lamp next to laptop (Photo via Canadian Tire)
OttLite ClearSun LED Light Therapy Lamp (Photo via Canadian Tire)

Average rating: 4.5 stars

The details: Stop the "winter blues" in their tracks with this LED Light Therapy Lamp. The lamp features a frosted diffuser to minimize glare and is touch activated with three intensity levels.

Promising review: One Canadian Tire shopper calls it a "compact, affordable light therapy lamp" that is "well designed [and] easy to use."

$60 at Canadian Tire

Doraubia Daylight Therapy Lamp

Doraubia Daylight Therapy Lamp (Photo via Amazon)
Doraubia Daylight Therapy Lamp (Photo via Amazon)

Average rating: 4.6 stars

The details: This light therapy lamp has a built-in timer function and three adjustable colour temperatures. Additionally, the lamp boasts intelligent touch controls and a convenient USB charging port.

Promising review: "I love the design, the light and intensity," writes one reviewer. Adding, it "does give you the effect of sun exposure."

$66 at Amazon

PureGuardian Full Spectrum Tabletop LED Energy Light

PureGuardian SPA50CA Full Spectrum Tabletop LED Energy Light
(Photo via Best Buy)
PureGuardian SPA50CA Full Spectrum Tabletop LED Energy Light (Photo via Best Buy)

Average rating: 4 stars

The details: This full-spectrum tabletop LED energy light delivers up to 10,000 LUX of blue or white light and is equipped with customizable settings and a timer for a personalized light experience.

Promising review: While reviews for the PureGuardian lamp are limited, fans have given the lamp a 100 per cent recommendation rate.

$74 at Best Buy Canada

Circadian Optics Lumos 2.0 Light Therapy Lamp

Circadian Optics Lumos 2.0 Light Therapy Lamp (Photo via Amazon)
Circadian Optics Lumos 2.0 Light Therapy Lamp (Photo via Amazon)

Average rating: 4.6 stars

The details: This compact and portable light therapy lamp is a great choice for those with limited desk space. The top-rated unit has three brightness settings and a lifespan of approximately 50,000 hours.

Promising review: It's an "amazing SAD lamp," according to one shopper. This "thing gave me back the pep in my step," they write. "Great product, highly recommend."

$56 at Amazon

Northern Light Technologies Travelite Portable Light Box

woman sitting at table with cereal and SAD lamp, Northern Light Technologies Travelite 10,000 Lux Bright Light Therapy Portable Light Box (photo via Amazon)
Northern Light Technologies Travelite 10,000 Lux Bright Light Therapy Portable Light Box (photo via Amazon)

Average rating: 4.6 stars

The details: Brighten up your day with this reviewer-loved happy lamp from the Northern Light Technologies Store. The made-in-Canada lamp offers 10,000 lux of UV-blocked diffuse light and measures 13.5 inches in height.

Promising review: One reviewer bought the lamp for a family member who lives in the Yukon and describes it as essential for their "winter wellness." It's "just what the doctor ordered," they write.

$175 $206 at Amazon

Northern Light Technologies Light Therapy Box

woman on computer next to light therapy lamp, Northern Light Technologies Light Therapy Box (photo via Amazon)
Northern Light Technologies Light Therapy Box (photo via Amazon)

Average rating: 4.6 stars

The details: This fan-favourite desk lamp offers 10,000 lux at a distance of up to 14 inches. The made-in-Canada device has an eight-foot cord and is UV-blocked.

Promising review: The light box is "great for gloomy days," attests one shopper. The "amount of energy you feel as soon as it's on is crazy," they say; it's a "game-changer."

$200 $223 at Amazon

Carex Sun Lamp Mood Light

Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Bright Light Therapy Lamp - 10,000 LUX - Sun Lamp Mood Light
Carex Sun Lamp Mood Light (Photo via Amazon)

Average rating: 4.4 stars

The details: This "Amazon's Choice" light therapy lamp provides the recommended 10,000 LUX of glare-free white light. Its screen measures in at 16-inches by 13-inches and is height and angle-adjustable.

Promising review: One shopper, who says they have seasonal affective disorder, writes the lamp helped them feel better. "I highly recommend it," they say. "It's really helped me."

$200 $240 at Amazon

The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.

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