I first learned what a SAD lamp was in college. At the time, I was living in San Diego, where it was perpetually sunny. My good friend was living in Canada, where it was perpetually not. We were catching up on the phone, and she told me she was sitting in front of a little light box. The intent was to mimic the absent sunlight to lift her spirits.
Basking in front of a little box that shines a light on your face for 30-ish minutes a day to feel less sad might sound like a piece of misinformation that would float around health TikTok, but it’s legit.
“Research shows that daily exposure to light therapy has been proven effective and is now recognized as a first-line therapeutic modality for the treatment of SAD, as well as other disorders that include symptoms of circadian rhythm disruption [including] bipolar disorder, ADHD, [and] depression,” psychotherapist and brain health expert Teralyn Sell told us.
SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is a diagnosable type of depression someone might experience with the changing seasons and diminishing sunlight. A SAD lamp is an over-the-counter device that uses fluorescent lights and a diffusion screen (this filters out UV light), emitting 10,000 lux (that’s how much light falls on an area).
It essentially tricks your brain into making the chemicals and hormones that it normally would if you had been exposed to sunlight.
I still live in SoCal, so I admittedly have not used one. But I have a lot of loved ones who have turned to these devices as a way to fend off some of the mood changes brought on by dreary seasons. And so I love these little light boxes, sitting atop my friends’ desks and vanities, shining little lights on their faces and making them feel a little bit better. And they’re over-the-counter. (Read: You can buy one online today and have it in front of you before the end of the week.)
That being said, a SAD lamp is not the cure-all for all types of depression and mood disorders, so speak with a qualified mental health provider to find out the best plan for you.
If you are looking to add a little (fake) sunshine to your morning, we’ve got a few recommendations.
Melanie, editor at Nessie Sightings
PS: A SAD lamp rules, but it doesn’t provide you with any vitamin D. You’ll need the actual sun or a supplement for that.