Everyone could do with a little more happy light in the winter.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
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There's no denying that winter's lack of sunlight really sucks. The dreariness of it all can even have clinical repercussions, such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a subset of depression that's characterized by the increase of depressive symptoms during the winter months, according to Neeraj Gandotra, M.D., chief medical officer at Delphi Behavioral Health Group. If you feel exhausted 24/7, don't want to see your friends anymore or do any of the things that bring you joy, there's a chance that SAD is what's getting you down. (Keep in mind that just because you're depressed during the winter doesn't automatically mean you have SAD.)
The good news: Whether you're clinically diagnosed with SAD or just feel like a winter curmudgeon, you can do some easy things to help boost your mood. "Your body makes natural chemicals (including vitamin D) that fight off depression—and some of those chemicals are generated through exercise and through direct exposure to sunlight," says Dr. Gandotra. (Here's more on how to prevent and treat SAD, and when to see your doctor about it.)
Photo: panitanphoto / Shutterstock
Treating SAD—or Just the Winter "Blahs"
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The first course of treatment in battling the winter blues is to increase exercise and eat healthier, says Dr. Gandotra. If you're already doing those things or want a quicker fix, there's also light therapy—either via a lightbox (one that you turn on/off and use while you're awake) or dawn initiation lamps (which slowly light up before your alarm goes off in the a.m. to help wake your body naturally). Both of these light therapy lamps mimic the effects of sunlight and can help better your mood, along with helping you transition between seasons. "If you've tried your best to exercise and get your vitamin D supplements, light therapy is a more immediate fix," explains Dr. Gandotra. In one 2009 study published in the International Journal of Disability and Human Development, using light therapy lamps for just 20 minutes a day resulted in significant mood improvement in people with SAD.
FYI: You can't just go sit in front of your desk lamp. "The light box needs to be of sufficient brightness, about 10,000 lux," recommends Dr. Gandotra. Light therapy lamps are usually 10 to 20 times brighter than regular light bulbs, according to the American Psychological Association. Luckily, you can snag a pretty good one right on Amazon.
Although light therapy lamps can seriously help people with SAD, it's clear that everyone can benefit from a little more brightness during the cold, dark winter months. To get started, here are the top-rated light therapy lamps you can buy on Amazon.
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Verilux HappyLight Touch with Timer
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This brand specializes in mood-boosting light therapy technology, so it's no surprise that one of their products is the top-rated light therapy lamp on all of Amazon.
One reviewer wrote: "I work all day in an office with no windows, staring only at a computer screen with seriously depressing overhead lights. Hours of this, and you can't help but go mad! Finally, I decided to do something about it after reading tons of articles on light therapy (yes, it's a thing!!!) and found Verilux. I now use the Verilux HappyLight EVERY SINGLE DAY. It gave me energy, and over time I truly found myself enjoying the day! If I don't use the light for a few days, I miss it. Even my colleagues now ask when I am going to turn it on (close space so they see it too)."
Circadian Optics Lumos 2.0 Light Therapy Lamp
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This is the best light therapy lamp if you plan to take it with you on the go. It's adjustable via three different hinges—making it easy to position in any way you need it.
One review read: "I use it for about an hour each morning. I love that it's so adjustable. I can get it in just the right spot. The sun sets very early here in midwinter (4 p.m. or earlier) so I've also been doing another half hour around sunset to keep my brain in the right schedule. Some days I'll use it more or less depending on how dark it is outside. When I do put it away, I love that it folds down compactly with the light protected. I would feel comfortable traveling with it if need be. I'm so pleased with this product. It's well made, it works well as a therapy light, and it was worth every penny."
Alaska Northern Lights Bright Light Therapy Box
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This briefcase-lookalike light therapy lamp has a handle that you can use to move it effortlessly. It also lights up a room like no other: The light shines a full 2 feet away, where most only reach 6 inches.
"I suffer from SAD so my husband bought me this light. The changes were subtle at first but then I realized how much more motivated I had become and how much more I was engaging in activities that I typically avoid during the dreary winter months. It has been so liberating," wrote one reviewer.
Aura Day Light Therapy Lamp
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This compact light therapy lamp has an integrated timer, which will immediately shut off the light after the indicated amount of time, between 10 and 60 minutes.
One reviewer commented on how his wife uses it to help wake up each morning: "I read the reviews of the other lights offered on Amazon and purchased this one for my wife on that [basis]. She loves this lamp. She is greatly affected by the shortage of sunlight in the winter here in NE Ohio. Between the short days and the gray days, it is hard for her to get out of bed some mornings. She placed the light on her nightstand and turns it on for 15–20 minutes before she gets up in the morning and it makes a world of difference."
Northern Light Technology Flamingo Floor Lamp
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This floor lamp doubles as a light therapy lamp—which means you can get your daily dose of light while preserving precious tabletop space.
"I thought this light was very expensive but wanted a light that I could leave out so I would use it every day. It works very well and appears that it will last a long time. I like the light and feel better when I use it. I have even considered using it as a room light after I have sat close to it for a half to one hour. I feel disappointed when I turn the light off because the tone of regular winter light is not as warming or encouraging," wrote one reviewer who also mentioned she has SAD.
Philips Somneo Sleep and Wake-Up Light Therapy Lamp
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Dawn-initiation lamps can help you start your day on the right foot even if you normally have difficulty getting out of bed. You set the alarm for your desired wake-up time, and the room will start to brighten for a period of time leading up to your alarm, mimicking a natural sunrise. Dawn-initiation lamps are considered a less-intense treatment than your typical light therapy, says Dr. Gandotra.
One reviewer wrote: "This light works as designed and wakes me up better than any other I’ve tried. I was told by a sleep specialist many years ago that there's a certain frequency of light that stimulates the 'feel good' hormones in the morning—in the red/orange frequency—this has those."
NatureBright SunTouch Light Therapy Lamp
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With almost 4,000 reviews on Amazon, this light therapy lamp will even appeal to your fur children.
One reviewer wrote: "I got this as a gift for my wife, but it turns out it was a gift for the whole family, and by whole family, I mean her, my dog, and my cat. We live in the Pacific Northwest and Nov–Mar don't get nearly as much sun as usual. Now, while my wife is sitting down and doing her coursework, the cat and dog will pile in next to her and edge each other out for a spot in front of the light! We are all very pleased with it."
FITFIRST Portable Light Therapy Energy Lamp
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This lamp has an adjustable brightness level, so you can change it depending on comfort or the severity of your winter blues.
One reviewer wrote: "This product has already changed my life! Love it! If you're thinking about buying it, the answer is YES. MY STORY: I used to be so productive and bounced up in the morning. I fell asleep around 9 and sleep came easy. Then lately I, all the sudden, stopped being able to fall asleep and was kind of meh about approaching the day. I suspected it was because I wake up in the dark and then leave the office when it's dark. My office has no windows. So I bought the light therapy on a whim and I'm not kidding one bit. Yesterday I was awake without needing coffee and I slept last night!"
Lumie Bodyclock Active 250 Wake-Up Light
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This light therapy alarm clock has a battery back-up. So even if the power goes out, you won't have to wake up feeling even crappier.
One reviewer wrote: "Thanks for saving me from oversleeping in my dark windowless apartment."
Philips goLITE BLU Energy Light Therapy Lamp
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One reviewer wrote: "I suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that stays with me pretty much all winter. I can have good days and others that are very dark and deep. Since I am allergic to all the medications that might make me feel better, this little jewel is the perfect remedy. It is small and compact (easy for traveling), rechargeable, has several levels of light intensity and I only need to use it for 20–30 minutes per day."