8. HappyLight Deluxe Verilux; $190; amazon.comThe largest Verilux and a Rosenthal favorite. (This would be a good time to stress that using any 10,000-lux light for longer than the 30-minute maximum can cause a range of side effects, including cornea damage, headaches, and sleeplessness, the last of which we found out the hard way with this model.)
1. Night-Light Combination Lowbluelights.com; $13; lowbluelights.comShaped like a minimalist night-light, this amber bulb is ideal for the frequent bathroom-at-night visitor, providing a soothing hue that won’t disturb your rest (as opposed to daytime-signaling blue lights), so you can drift right back to dreamland. Or use it in the bedroom before sleeptime.
Of all of the light therapy lamps we considered, the Boxelite has the most unobtrusive design.
The Aura Light is one of many small SAD lamps on the market today. We chose not to test it because its light panel is smaller than the recommended size. (And, at the time of publishing, it was unavailable.)
Therapeutic light boxes are not the only available treatment for seasonal affective disorder. If you think you’re among the roughly 6 percent of SAD sufferers in the United States, talk to your doctor to figure out your best course of treatment (which might include anything from more time outside to cognitive behavioral therapy or antidepressants).
Wirecutter supports our readers with thousands of hours of reporting and testing to help you find the stuff you need in order to live a better life. You support us through our independently chosen links, which earn us a commission. Read more about what we do.
Then there’s a second group—those who feel the weight of these changes in a more serious manner. Maybe the symptoms aren’t quite severe enough to seek a doctor’s opinion, but they certainly make it hard to get out of the house in winter. It’s what we sometimes informally call the winter blues. This group read Ethan Frome once and felt that finally somebody else understood what winter was like for you.
6. Day-Light Sky Carex; $220; amazon.comThough it’s one third smaller than the Classic Plus, the Sky is similarly angled toward the optimal part of the retina. These two Carex models also happen to be the choice happy lights of the standard-setting nonprofit CET; we noticed the biggest mood boost from them, too.
The Travelite and Luxor, also by Northern Light Technologies, were both dismissed for their smaller light panels and lesser reviews, respectively.
Last, avoid incandescent bulbs. Though they’re fine for use in dawn simulators, they can build up a lot of heat near the eye in a SAD light therapy box.
For most people with only mild seasonal mood disorders (some 14 percent of the US population), the risk of using a therapy light is relatively minimal; eyestrain and headaches are the most commonly reported side effects. However, as New York Magazine reported in its 2016 article on SAD lamps, people with a history of clinical depression or bipolar disorder may suffer an exaggerated response while using a light box and should only consider this therapy in close consultation with a physician.
Our pick has all of the specs our expert sources recommend, as well as a reasonable price, a generous warranty, and a recommendation by the Center for Environmental Therapeutics.
A light box should deliver between 2,500 and 10,000 lux. Lux is a unit that measures 1 lumen per square meter. The more lux a light delivers, the less time you need to spend sitting in front of it. For most 10,000-lux lights, 30 uninterrupted minutes should suffice. (You could go longer, but for some people, that can cause side effects such as eyestrain and headaches.)
It’s important to note that not everyone experiences their symptoms at the same time or in the same way. In Winter Blues, Rosenthal writes, “Just as the degree of seasonal difficulties may vary from one person to the next, so may the timing of the problem. For example, one person may begin to feel SAD symptoms in September, whereas another will feel well until after Christmas.”
Be sure to look for safe light wavelengths. “My recommendation is cool white fluorescent lights in a light box protected by a Plexiglass diffuser that absorbs ultraviolet radiation,” Lewy advised. Ultraviolet waves are potentially harmful to the eye and do not seem to be effective in alleviating symptoms of SAD.
Canadian Consensus Group on SAD, Canadian Consensus Guidelines for the Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder
The Day-Light Sky by Carex is nearly identical to our runner-up. Both have a long neck and swivel head for custom positioning. However, this lamp has historically been more expensive than our top pick and hasn’t received the same expert recommendation.
Category II: RestedAmber lights at bedtime and dawn simulators in the morning.
RE Strong, BK Marchant, FW Reimherr, E Williams, P Soni, R Mestas, Narrow-band blue-light treatment of seasonal affective disorder in adults and the influence of additional nonseasonal symptoms., Journal of Depression and Anxiety
Michael Craig Miller, Seasonal affective disorder: bring on the light, Harvard Health Blog, December 21, 2012
Assembling the Boxelite is similarly easy as setting up our runner-up, the HappyLight, and takes only a few minutes. Out of the box, you attach a small, lightweight metal base with a plastic screw to the bottom of the lamp, and stand the lamp upright. An on-off switch at the base powers the lamp. It takes a few seconds for the bulbs to illuminate, but this is normal for fluorescent bulbs. The Boxelite does have double the heat output of the HappyLight, but after 30 minutes it didn’t feel too hot to the touch.
Our favorite aspect of the Boxelite is its sleek design. The Boxelite has a similar picture-frame setup to the Happy Light. Unlike the HappyLight, however, the Boxelite has a more minimal design with fewer accents, cleaner edges, and no stamped-on logo. The back of the Boxelite is contained in a single smooth, black panel, while the back of the HappyLight has several protruding plastic pieces (one of these is its adjustable stand). If you can justify the price increase and want a less-obtrusive light therapy lamp, the Boxelite is a solid choice. It also has a seven-year warranty, longer than both our pick and runner-up.
*This article appears in the January 25, 2016 issue of New York Magazine.
5. Color 1000LIFX; $60; amazon.comThis bulb’s accompanying app isn’t as user-friendly as the Ilumi, but it has a similar dawn-simulating feature, making for a much more peaceful wake-up than the jolt of an alarm. It will also automatically find the sunrise time in your location and brighten right along with it.
9. Sleepy Baby Lighting Science; $35; amazon.comThis firm, founded to help NASA astronauts with their sleep schedules, has now developed a bulb for the baby’s room. Although it didn’t have a strong effect on our ten-month-old test subject, the parents enjoyed the peaceful glow before bedtime.
6. Bodyclock Active 250 Lumie; $140; amazon.comThis alarm clock has slits in the back that reflect rays onto the wall, creating your own personal sunrise, and can be scheduled to begin slowly, starting anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes before the given wake-up time. If you prefer a little noise, there’s also the option of soothing bird alarm sounds.
Bright Lights, Big Relief, American Psychological Association, June 26, 2006
In 1980, Alfred Lewy published the finding that sufficiently intense artificial light suppressed humans’ nighttime production of melatonin—a hormone linked to the regulation of our sleep cycle. According to interviews with Lewy, prior to that moment, there was more or less uniform agreement among medical professionals that artificial light had little to no effect on our circadian rhythms. As it turned out, most experiments up to that moment hadn’t used lights bright enough to induce a measurable change in our melatonin or circadian physiology.
RN Golden, BN Gaynes, RD Ekstrom, RM Hamer, FM Jacobsen, T Suppes, KL Wisner, CB Nemeroff, The efficacy of light therapy in the treatment of mood disorders: a review and meta-analysis of the evidence., American Journal of Psychiatry, April 1, 2005
10. HF3520 Wake-Up Light Philips; $170; amazon.comThirty minutes before you schedule the alarm to go off, this Philips dawn simulator starts turning color, hitting a spectrum of 20 shades from deep orange to bright white, at which point the noise portion kicks in (options include the sounds of a breezy Zen garden).
First, know that the FDA does not test, approve, or regulate light-box devices. As such, we do not recommend using them without a physician’s guidance. We based our picks on research, product specifications provided by manufacturers, customer feedback, and conversations with experts who study and prescribe these units.
Today, “bright light therapy is recommended as the first-line option” for the treatment of SAD, according to a 2003 review in the journal Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. Far from being a fringe or “alternative” purported remedy for SAD, light therapy has been clinically shown to work to alleviate symptoms in more than 60 studies in serious scientific publications.
The Day-Light Classic Plus is unwieldy and (some would argue) unattractive. If you don’t like the way it looks, you may prefer the simpler designs of our other picks.
The HappyLight looks like an oversize picture frame: You pull out the stand, place it down, and turn it on. While you can extend the HappyLight’s stand by several inches to angle the lamp, this creates only a slight difference. The HappyLight provides 10,000-lux light 6 inches from its surface, which means you’ll need to be 6 inches closer to it to receive the same amount of brightness as our top pick. It’s a solid design for sitting in front of with a cup of coffee, but it can make it difficult if you want to do other things (such as read or write) while remaining within its therapeutic range (between 5 and 24 inches). Alternatively, should you prefer to be a full foot away from the lamp, you may find you need to spend more time in front of it for maximum benefit.
The Boxelite will provide 10,000 lux at 14 inches, two more than our pick. While that’s not a huge increase, it will give you some extra room should you want to read or work while sitting in front of the lamp. It measures 19 inches tall, 12 inches long, and 3 inches wide, making it slightly slimmer and smaller than the HappyLight, while still meeting the recommendation for a panel that measures at least 1 square foot.
A third group experiences these changes so severely that their lives are seriously disrupted. It’s this last group that we would typically describe as suffering from seasonal affective disorder. If you have true SAD, the cold months may feel like a physical exhaustion that will never end. To you, Ethan Frome is a cheery book about sledding compared with how you feel every winter morning.
AJ Lewy, MD, PhD, director, Sleep and Mood Disorders Laboratory at Oregon Health and Sciences University, interview
For most of us, these seasonal shifts in our moods and energy might be annoying, but they’re fairly simple to manage. In winter, you may even enjoy the chance to curl up by a fire or take a walk in the invigorating cold air. In short, you read Ethan Frome once and didn’t understand all the endless brooding.
If design is your priority or you want to gain a few inches of space between you and your lamp, we like the Northern Light Technologies Boxelite Desk Lamp. This lamp is more expensive than our pick and runner-up, but looks the sharpest on a desk or table. The Boxelite also allows you to sit up to 14 inches away from the lamp, providing a greater range than our other picks. Similar to the Day-Light and the HappyLight, the Boxelite provides 10,000 lux, and emits light from a 228-square-inch face. According to Northern Light Technologies, the light is fully UV-free. The Boxelite provides an even warmer light than the Day-Light, with a 3,500 Kelvin color temperature. While very simple to assemble, the Boxelite is not adjustable, but its slim, basic design means it looks the least obtrusive of the lamps we considered. Our main issue with the Boxelite is its higher price, although it does come with a seven-year warranty.
6. Sun BlissNature Bright; $80; amazon.comSimilar to the Litebook, the Sun Bliss wake-up light is in fact a mini 10,000-lux device, but again, we found it to have more of a mild blue-light effect. It doubles as a dawn-simulating alarm clock, good for traveling in different time zones.
The expert-recommended Day-Light Classic Plus. Photo: Caleigh Waldman
Susan Rinkunas, Can a SAD Lamp Really Make You Happy?, New York Magazine, January 26, 2016
CI Eastman, MA Young, LF Fogg, L Liu, PM Meaden, Bright light treatment of winter depression: a placebo-controlled trial., Archives of General Psychiatry, October 1, 1998
If you’re willing to pay a bit more for the sleekest light therapy lamp we looked at, or if our pick and runner-up are unavailable, we recommend the Northern Light Technologies Boxelite Desk Lamp. With a minimalist, square design, the Boxelite is the lamp we’d like to put on our own desks. It has a large light face, which provides 10,000 lux of UV-free light at 14 inches (a farther distance than both our top pick and runner-up). The Boxelite also has a warmer color temperature (3,500 Kelvin) than our other picks, which may better suit your taste. But the Boxelite isn’t adjustable, unlike the Day-Light Classic Plus and the HappyLight, and it doesn’t have the endorsement that our main pick does.
Elizabeth Saenger, PhD, Director of Education at the Center for Environmental Therapeutics, interview
The Day-Light produces 108 watts, making it hotter to the touch than our runner-up and other picks (which put out 36 and 72 watts, respectively). Like any heat-producing device, the lamp should be used in an open, ventilated space (a company spokesperson recommended avoiding putting it on a desk with a hutch, for example).
Light-Regulating Apps A free download of F.lux will regulate a computer’s light output throughout the day from bright and blue at midday to an increasingly orange-pink glow in the evening. For the phone, Android apps like Twilight and Blue Light Filter For Eye Care work similarly.
While many SAD lamps fit the above specifications, we discounted many of them because of their high price for most people, overly cumbersome design, too-small size, or dubious claims to features like “ion therapy.”
2. SunRay 2Sunbox; $435; amazon.comTried and true, though admittedly a bit cumbersome, this is an updated model of the light box used in the National Institute of Mental Health’s first studies on the effectiveness of light therapy back in the ’90s. “It really packs a punch,” says psychiatrist and SAD-research pioneer Dr. Norman Rosenthal.
If you enjoy a brighter white light, or our top pick is unavailable, we recommend the Verilux HappyLight Deluxe 10,000-Lux Sunshine Simulator. It has many of the same fundamental features as our top pick, the Day-Light Classic Plus, including 10,000-lux light emitted from a 200-square-inch face. Additionally, Verilux says it blocks 100 percent of UV rays (compared with the Day-Light, which Carex says is 99.3 percent UV-free). However, unlike our top pick, the HappyLight is not as adjustable along its vertical axis, making it far easier to set up, but limiting its possible overall positions.
Nicole Praschak-Rieder, Matthäus Willeit, Treatment of seasonal affective disorders, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, December 1, 2003
The design of the HappyLight isn’t as sleek as that of our also great pick, however. The Verilux logo is front and center in large font on the HappyLight’s light panel, and there are some unnecessary silver plastic accents on the lamp’s face as well that make it look a little like something out of the Jetsons’ house. The plastic back of the lamp looks cheap, and the adjustable stand makes a loud cranking noise as you extend it.
The Day-Light Classic Plus by Carex projects 10,000 lux of 99.3 percent UV-free light from its 204-square-inch surface, the minimum lux that any SAD lamp needs to be therapeutically effective according to the doctors we interviewed. The Day-Light lamp face mounts to a weighted horseshoe base by an adjustable arm. This arm allows the lamp’s angle and vertical position to be adjusted, reducing overall glare and increasing the flexibility of where and how you can use the lamp. For instance, you can set up the Day-Light in such a way that it allows you to read a book beneath it while keeping most of your face positioned well within the therapeutic 12-inch range of the lamp face. By comparison, to read in front of lamps that sit directly on a desk, you would need to either place the book upright between you and the lamp, shielding you from some of the light, or lay it down in front of you, possibly extending you outside of its therapeutic range.
8. LightifyOsram; $55 for starter kit; bestbuy.comThese smart bulbs have presets like a bright-blue “concentration” for long slogs at the office. Unlike 10,000-lux lights, which can cause sleeplessness if overused, blue light should have no side effects as long as it’s shut two hours before bed.
Christian Jarrett, Why Your Brain Actually Works Better in Winter, New York Magazine, February 14, 2016
This Carex lamp meets all of the criteria necessary to be considered therapeutically effective and safe, and it’s cheaper than many of its competitors. The lamp’s 99.3 percent UV-free light and 10,000-lux light intensity, combined with its large, 250-square-inch face, mean you won’t have to sit in front of it for more than 30 minutes (the minimum length of time that experts recommend) to experience its physiological benefits. It’s also the lamp recommended by the Center for Environmental Therapeutics, a nonprofit collective of scientists and clinicians dedicated to research and education about environmental therapies.
Light-therapy devices that work differently from SAD lamps and aim to treat other health problems—such as trouble waking in the morning, which is what dawn simulators like the Philips Wake-Up Light purport to do—were also excluded.
Fully extended, the Day-Light Classic Plus is 28½ inches tall, while its lamp face is 15½ inches wide and roughly 9 inches deep. The lamp angle can swing approximately 65 degrees from fully to vertical to nearly horizontal. However, this design makes the entire lamp both harder to put together and more cumbersome to move around than our runner-up pick. The weighted base takes up a large 12-by-16-inch footprint by itself. But we think it’s worth it for the lower price, extended five-year warranty, and the extra adjustability.
The larger the surface of the light box, the better. In Winter Blues, Rosenthal notes that the lights “used in almost all research studies … have an illuminated surface that is at least about one foot square.” For that reason, and the fact that smaller therapeutic lamps have not undergone the same kind of rigorous study that their bigger cousins have received, we strongly recommend light boxes with the largest surfaces.
3. C-Sleep GE; $50; cbyge.comGE’s first all-encompassing sleep bulb, available for purchase in February, connects to a smartphone app. The bulb transitions between three colors to match your circadian rhythm, ranging from bluish to soft white to amber depending on the time of day.
There are a few important factors to consider when shopping for a SAD lamp to ensure you receive the full therapeutic benefits of the light. Since we are not qualified or equipped to test SAD lamps for efficacy, we focused instead on how easy they are to use, how much space they take up on a tabletop, and whether they met their stated specs. We considered all the points below and selected our three top picks for hands-on comparison.
Northern Light Technologies Boxelite Desk Lamp More streamlined, warmer hue
4. Sun Touch Plus Nature Bright; $80; walgreens.comThis one strays from the white-fluorescent norm of happy lights. It uses blue light with the bonus of a negative ionizer, which is said to release pleasurable ions like those found near waterfalls. (It’s also the light-therapy choice of Ohio’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital.)
What to Look for in Dawn Simulators: A Buying Guide, CET, June 1, 2014
Roni Caryn Rabin, A Portable Glow to Help Melt Those Winter Blues, The New York Times, November 14, 2011
Allison Aubrey, Intense Light Still Best Treatment for Winter Blues, NPR, December 21, 2006
We also looked at how close you need to sit to each box to score the maximum results. Light intensity is subject to the inverse square law, which says that the intensity of light falls off by the square of the distance that you move away from it. For instance, if you are 2 feet away from a light source, you see a fourfold decrease in intensity. “I insist, absolutely, that any reputable, reliable manufacturer has to tell the consumer what the distance it should be from the eyes to achieve 10,000 lux,” Lewy said. “If a light box doesn’t have that information, I wouldn’t use it.” (If you’re prepared to drop nearly $400 or more, you can sit up to 20 inches away from the box, but we didn’t think it was worth paying three times the price of our picks to gain 6 to 8 more inches.)
Health & Fitness Medical Supplies The Best Light Therapy Lamp
Fashion Bedtime SunglassesDeveloped by three young designers from Lyon, France, See Concept Screen glasses ($65; MoMA Design Store) come in two Warby Parker–esque frame styles and six colors, including tortoiseshell, and block 40 percent of blue light. They make everything slightly dimmer but far less warped than orange glasses, so you can wear them throughout the evening.Screen Filters If you’d rather not wear glasses, Zzz filters (from $17; lowbluelights.com) are removable screen covers for iPhones and Apple monitors that block all of the blue glow. (Though you’re still susceptible to the blue light coming from traditional bulbs around the house.)
RW Lam, AJ Levitt, RD Levitan, MW Enns, R Morehouse, EE Michalak, EM Tam, The Can-SAD study: a randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness of light therapy and fluoxetine in patients with winter seasonal affective disorder., American Journal of Psychiatry, May 1, 2006
AJ Lewy, TA Wehr, FK Goodwin, DA Newsome, SP Markey, Light Suppresses Melatonin Secretion in Humans, Science, December 1, 1980
7. Hue Philips; $200 for starter kit; amazon.comAmong the first LED smart lights to emerge back in 2012, Hue was just upgraded with a brighter spectrum. According to a study of one school in Hamburg, Germany, similar lighting by Philips increased students’ reading speed by 35 percent.
Lauren Schwartzberg, 27 Mood Lights to Keep You Happy, Relaxed, or Focused, New York Magazine, January 29, 2016
Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Lamp The best light therapy lamp
The research Expand all Why you should trust us What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? Who should (and should not) get this How SAD lamps work How we picked Our pick: Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Lamp Flaws but not dealbreakers Runner-up: HappyLight Deluxe 10,000-Lux Sunshine Simulator Also great: Northern Technology Boxelite Desk Lamp The competition Footnotes Sources
In the time since an earlier version of this guide was published, the Northern Light Technologies Boxelite Desk Lamp has become available. After trying it out for ourselves, we recommend the Boxelite…
Compared with the cooler tone of our runner-up, the Day-Light emits a pleasant, warm light, with a color temperature of 4,000 Kelvin. It’s gentler to sit in front of for an extended period, and the Day-Light’s intensity can also be adjusted between a high (three bulbs) and low (two bulbs) setting. The Day-Light comes with a standard AWG 5-foot grounded power cord, which is interchangeable if it gets lost and plenty long enough for most people. However, this interchangeability means you can buy a longer AWG cord and use it instead, if you need to.
The Center for Environmental Therapeutics, a nonprofit collective of scientists and clinicians dedicated to research and education about environmental therapies, recommends the Day-Light Classic Plus. According to the CET’s director of education, Elizabeth Saenger, it’s the go-to light for many clinical trials that aim to study the effectiveness of light therapy. In October 2017, CET board member Dr. Dorothy K. Sit and her colleagues used the Day-Light in an American Journal of Psychiatry paper, “Adjunctive Bright Light Therapy for Bipolar Depression: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial.” A January 2016 article in New York Magazine also touted the Day-Light Classic Plus, quoting psychiatrist James Phelps’s description of it as the “official research rig.”
3. Awake & Alert Lighting Science; $48 (for two); amazon.comThe NASA spinoff Lighting Science also makes a bluish-white bulb for alertness, best placed in an office desk lamp or in your kid’s homework area. The tint is subtle—more icicle than electric. (But be aware that it gets hotter than your average LED bulb.)
Sun-Exposure MeasurerThe two-inch, solar-powered SunSprite device ($100; sunsprite.com) clips on to a shirt or jacket and measures daily sun intake. In addition to making sure you reach the recommended 30 minutes of bright light every day, it links with an app to track light-exposure patterns over time so you can see if you’re getting too many UV rays.
The HappyLight Deluxe sets up in minutes but lacks a stand for more versatile positioning. Photo: Caleigh Waldman
1. Flamingo Northern Light Technologies; $230; amazon.com Use this standing lamp while on the treadmill, Northern Light Technologies recommends, to mirror the invigorating effect of outdoor exercise when Central Park is just too damn cold. Like the SunRay and the Carex units, the Flamingo has a downward tilt, positioning it toward the eye’s ganglion cells, which is the specific point where humans process light. (Plus the angle makes for less glare.)
Share this review on Facebook Share this review on Twitter Save this review on Pocket Share this review on Pinterest Share this review with E-mail
Verilux HappyLight Deluxe 10,000-Lux Sunshine Simulator Smaller footprint, easier to assemble
Though it is easier to put together and lighter to move around than our top pick, the HappyLight Deluxe is more expensive and has a shorter warranty.
Although humans have evolved over millennia to sleep when it’s dark and wake when it’s bright, this fact can be easy to forget when hunched over our glaring desk lamps and iPhone screens at all sorts of sun-defying hours. Modern lighting, in other words, has thrown off our circadian clocks, leaving us tired, depressed, unfocused. The good news is an entire industry has sprouted to address these issues with … more light. Sales of happy lights — 10,000-lux white fluorescent bulbs intended to treat seasonal depression — have increased 12 percent every year for the past three years. Clinical studies, like one published this month in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, have shown light-box therapy to be effective in treating not only seasonal but also clinical depression. (These claims remain controversial: The clinically depressed shouldn’t use these lamps unsupervised, warns Michael Terman, director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbia University Medical Center, although he thinks the side-effect risk is minimal for those with “mild mood disturbances.”) But it’s not all about “happy” either. Now that LED bulbs have become much more affordable, companies like GE and Philips are developing nonwhite lights for myriad other moods — using blue and amber and color-changing illumination to regulate our sleep cycles, boost productivity, and beyond. Here, based on expert guidance and editor testing — we eliminated lights we found ineffective — we break down the spectrum of ones that actually work.
Rosenthal notes that the lights “used in almost all research studies … have an illuminated surface that is at least about one foot square.”
Disclaimer: This guide is not a replacement for an official diagnosis of SAD by a physician. While many of us might catch a case of the blahs when the weather gets colder and the days longer, that’s far different from a clinical case of SAD, which should only be diagnosed and treated by a medical professional. (See below for more on these differences.) You should use a SAD lamp or light box only under medical supervision, as it is, in fact, a medical device. That said, if we were going to try one out, here’s what we’d buy.
RW Lam, AJ Levitt, RD Levitan, EE Michalak, AH Cheung, R Morehouse, R Ramasubbu, LN Yatham, EM Tam, Efficacy of Bright Light Treatment, Fluoxetine, and the Combination in Patients With Nonseasonal Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial, JAMA Psychiatry, January 1, 2016
Once set up, the HappyLight measures 20 inches tall, 13½ inches long, and 3½ inches wide, and can also be mounted on a wall. It doesn’t take up much more space when leaning against its stand, either.
A new array of therapeutic bulbs go beyond “happy” lights. Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine
“[Dr. Robert] Sack and I realized that humans really don’t have seasonal rhythms like animals do, like breeding and hibernation and reproduction,” Lewy explained over the phone. “We proposed a ‘phase shift hypothesis’ that is still the leading hypothesis for how bright lights treat SAD, which is that in the winter, with the shorter days, most people’s circadian rhythms drift late with the later dawn: out of phase with their natural sleep-wake cycle. It’s like having jet lag for five months. With morning bright-light exposure, those rhythms are pushed back earlier, back into phase with their sleep.”
7. Rise & Shine Verilux; $100; amazon.comLike the other wake-up lights, this Verilux dawn simulator begins to rise before the alarm is scheduled to go off, and you can choose between gradually brightening green, purple, and white lights in addition to the typical yellow-orange spectrum.
The Day-Light Classic Plus is designed to let you read or write in front of it while still keeping within 12 inches of the light source, the recommended minimum effective distance. Photo: Caleigh Waldman
4. goLITE Blu Energy Philips; $200; amazon.comPotentially more than just a quick fix: Research has found that users felt increased energy levels after two weeks of using this jellyfish-blue light. And at a smaller size than an iPad mini, this sleek, lightweight design also makes it easy to port between work and home.
In the time since an earlier version of this guide was published, the Northern Light Technologies Boxelite Desk Lamp has become available. After trying it out for ourselves, we recommend the Boxelite for people who prefer a more streamlined lamp that produces a warm hue.
After doing 29 hours of research, including reading two books and five comprehensive studies on the subject and interviewing one of the scientists who discovered seasonal affective disorder, we found we would use the Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Lamp to treat SAD symptoms.
The Lightphoria, a best seller on Amazon, is too small to provide enough of an illuminated surface.
5. Day-Light Classic Plus Carex; $200; amazon.comPsychiatrist James Phelps calls this nearly 16-inch-wide model the “official research rig” because it was used in the study, published earlier this month, that suggested that 30 minutes of use over the course of eight weeks is effective in treating depression.
We also avoided models that use blue LEDs, as there’s still controversy over whether blue light (which is different from blue-enriched white light) is harmful to the eyes. However, we’ll watch as LED technology improves and becomes less expensive.
7. HappyLight Liberty 10KVerilux; $100; amazon.comClinical testing has shown “bigger is better” when it comes to the size of 10,000-lux lights prescribed for depression, says Rosenthal, which explains why they tend to be so wide. But for the casual user who might prefer a more discreet option, the Liberty’s comparative slimness (12.5-by-6.25 inches) is a plus.
Many people experience some emotional or physical changes with the arrival of new seasons, especially winter: Your mood may swing, your eating habits might shift, and your energy levels may rise or fall. Some people are less able to cope with these changes. SAD is a seasonal pattern of major depressive episodes as diagnosed by a physician according to criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR)1 (We repeat: This diagnosis can only be made by a trained physician and should not be self-diagnosed.)
2. Drift Saffron; $50; amazon.com Preston Wily developed Drift to mimic the setting summer sun, realizing that it offered just enough time to read in bed before disappearing; his product fades to dark over 37 minutes. There’s also a dim amber moonlight setting, which has proved popular with nursing mothers.
1. Bolt Misfit; $50; amazon.comThough they don’t have the pharmaceutical-grade power of happy lights, these blue-wavelength lights can provide just enough lift to get your through the 2 p.m. lull. The app-enabled Bolt bulb can access your iPhoto to replicate, say, the color of the sky from that trip to Montana.
We first looked at 40 lamps for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and eventually considered nine, taking Amazon user reviews and ratings into account. We spent a weekend reading Winter Blues by SAD expert Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal and spoke at length with Dr. Alfred Lewy, one of the first doctors to report on SAD in 1980. We also reached out to Dr. Elizabeth Saenger, the director of education for the Center for Environmental Therapeutics. Additionally, we read through many research papers from the past three decades.
We do not recommend using them without a physician’s guidance.
A large new study casts doubt on the existence of seasonal patterns of depression, but in the face of decades of evidence backing the condition and its existence in the DSM-IV, we’re reserving judgment until more research is done.
Despite a few design annoyances, the HappyLight would probably be our top pick if it were easier to read in front of while keeping you positioned within its therapeutic range. It also comes with only a one-year warranty, compared with the five-year warranty of our top pick.
Setting up and turning on the HappyLight couldn’t be simpler. It takes less than three minutes out of the box to have it turned on and positioned in your favorite spot. After 20 minutes of operation, the HappyLight is also a bit cooler to the touch than the other two models we brought in.
4. A19 Smartbulb Ilumi; $60; amazon.comIlumi’s Bluetooth-connected bulb — 25 percent of which is owned by Mark Cuban after a successful Shark Tank run — can be set to appear like a Maui (or Barcelona, or Denver) sunrise. Use the app to sync it with the sun and change color temperature accordingly throughout the day.
5. Litebook Edge Litebook; $145; amazon.comIn mini form, 10,000-lux lights seemed to have a mild energy-boosting effect on par with blue-wavelength lights. Just remember they’re not actually blue, so heed the usual 10,000-lux time limit, especially if you have sensitive eyes.
9. Luxor Northern Light Technologies; $200; drugstore.comPerhaps because it’s only 15 inches across each side, the geometric Luxor wasn’t as instantly uplifting as its bigger cousins, but it looked the sleekest on our desks. And according to the experts, the effect should be more noticeable with regular use at the same time each day.
8. Per2 LED Daylight LampNature Bright; $90; amazon.comWhat it lacks in sleekness it makes up for in bona fides: The CET recommends this lamp because it’s been developed in accordance with sleep research, gradually fading to darkness at bedtime and waking users up with an outpouring of light.
Category I: HappyBig, bright white lights for pharmaceutical-grade uplift.
Bedtime SunglassesAccording to a recent Swiss study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health and a string of similar research, wearing blue-wavelength-blocking orange glasses when using phones and screens before bed can reduce melatonin suppression and make users sleepier. Lots of pricier brands offer them, but as long as they have an orange tint (like the Uvex ones going for $9 on Amazon), they should do the trick.
2. A20Ketra; $600 per room; ketra.comKetra’s customized system is designed for lighting throughout the home, instead of single lamps. The bulbs sync up to a control panel that can be mounted into the wall. It has various settings, but the midday one was especially invigorating for an LED bulb of its size.
The Boxelite has an attractive, slim design, and you can sit up to 14 inches away from it while still getting 10,000 lux. Photo: Anna Perling
3. NorthStar 10,000 Alaska Northern Lights; $399; amazon.comThis can be used from much farther away (ideally two feet) than the others in this category because of its giant width and lack of tilt. Note: To experience the optimum 10,000-lux level, users must keep happy lamps at a specific distance from the eyes, which varies by model.
If the Day-Light Classic Plus is unavailable or goes up in price, or you’re willing to pay more for a smaller lamp, try the Verilux HappyLight Deluxe 10,000-Lux Sunshine Simulator. It has many of the same features as the Day-Light Classic Plus, including 10,000 lux of UV-free light up to 6 inches away from its surface and a large, 200-square-inch face. Unlike with the Day-Light Classic Plus, you can’t adjust the HappyLight by height, but you can adjust the angle by extending a foot at the base of the lamp. Although the HappyLight has the large surface area needed for maximum benefits, it’s still a less cumbersome light and much easier to set up out of the box compared with the Day-Light Classic Plus. The HappyLight’s glow is also a much cooler white (6,500 Kelvin) compared with that of our top pick (4,000 Kelvin), which you may prefer to the warmer hue of the Day-Light Classic Plus.