Spending day after day inside when you're stuck in self-quarantine can make you feel a bit stir-crazy, and can even be detrimental to your health. Your body's circadian system thrives off natural light, and with the lack of sun exposure that comes with locking yourself in your house, your mood and sleep cycles can get thrown off.
Luckily, there are treatments widely used to help treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that may be able to brighten our moods during the quarantine. SAD is a mood disorder similar to depression that nearly 10 million Americans experience, especially throughout the winter months.
"Typically, people report symptoms in early fall to late winter, with most symptoms subsiding when the weather shifts in spring and summer," Marianna Strongin, a licensed clinical psychologist, says. "However, there are some cases of people experiencing SAD during the spring or summer months." Symptoms of SAD range from a loss of interest in once enjoyable activities to everyday exhaustion, a change in appetite, a feeling of hopelessness and an inability to concentrate.
What causes seasonal affective disorder?
While the specific causes of SAD are still relatively unknown, it's believed that reduced levels of sunlight disrupts the body's internal clock (or circadian rhythm) and can lead to feelings of sluggishness, depression and lack of energy. Sound familiar? Thanks self-quarantine. Additionally, reduced sunlight can lower serotonin levels in the brain, which affect your overall mood, as well as melatonin levels which can disrupt sleep patterns.
Does light therapy help cure the blues?
According to the American Psychological Association, one of the most popular ways to enhance your mood and fight SAD is with a light therapy lamp, which is said to emit bright light similar to that of the sun's rays, sans the potentially harmful UV rays. But our burning question is, do these devices actually work? "Research on this is still limited, but in my personal experience patients have noted a significant difference after only a few days," Strongin says.
Let's revisit what is thought to be the underlying cause of SAD: lack of sun exposure. Light therapy devices combat this by giving patients an opportunity to soak up vitamin-rich simulated sunlight even when it is dark outside. Not only do these therapy lamps allow users to gain more exposure to good-for-you light, but as Strongin notes, "research has also found that light can cause a chemical change in the brain that can alleviate symptoms of depression and improve your mood overall."
Like most products, not all light therapy lamps are made equal. That is why the key to shopping for a light therapy lamp is looking for a product that has an exposure of 10,000 lux of light, the APA-recommended exposure to yield effective results. Also, know that light therapy isn't ideal for everyone. If you haven't been diagnosed with SAD, consult a medical professional before introducing it into your daily routine. If you are experiencing any SAD symptoms, they could end up recommending therapy, medication, light therapy or a combination of those options.
If you're ready to test out a lamp, there are a few things you'll want to consider, namely price and functionality.
In the latter category, you'll want to find products that have 10,000 LUX brightness, which is thought to be best for maximum effectiveness and safety. When we scoured the internet for light therapy products, we found a few standouts that feature 10,000 LUX brightness for under $100. Plus, these products have been vetted by thousands of reviewers who have given them the seal of approval.
With over 1,500 reviews on Amazon and a total rating of 4.5 stars out of 5, the Verilux HappyLight tops our list of light therapy lamps. It provides 10,000 LUX and has a broad surface area that can emit light brightly and efficiently around your home.
Circadian Optics Lumos 2.0 Light Therapy Lamp ($39.99; amazon.com)
This adjustable light therapy lamp can fit in smaller spaces around your home. Its energy efficient bulb can also last for roughly 50,000 hours of usage.
Miroco Light Therapy Lamp ($37.99; amazon.com)
This budget-friendly lamp features a compact design and foldable bracket so it can fit anywhere, whether it's at work or home.
Verilux HappyLight VT22 10,000-Lux Therapy Lamp ($37.95, originally $44.95; amazon.com)
This light comes with the ideal intensity for effective light therapy. Plus its compact, tablet-like design means it can easily be placed on your desk at work, kitchen counter or nightstand. The cherry on top is that right now, it also happens to be 16% off.
TaoTronics Light Therapy Lamp ($24.55, originally $30.99; amazon.com)
This device comes in a thin, lightweight design, meaning you can pack it with you on all your skiing trips and winter getaways. And if you can't wait to get your hands on a light therapy light, it also comes with Prime two-day shipping.
Other bestsellers for more than $100
Carex Daylight Sky Therapy Lamp ($160.81; homedepot.com)
This lamp blocks 99.3% of UV light and comes with 10,000 LUX of bright light in a height and angle adjustable stand.
Northern Light Technologies TRAVelite - Beige ($166.99; target.com).
This lamp provides 10,000 LUX at distances of 10 to 12 inches, plus it's compact and durable making it your perfect travel companion.
Northern Light Technologies Boxelite 10,000 LUX Bright Light Therapy Light Box ($189.99; amazon.com)
This tried and tested lamp is an easy way to make Blue Monday and the rest of winter feel, well, a little less blue.
According to Strongin, "daily meditation and journaling can both be very effective methods to help boost moods." Additionally, as SAD can result in oversleeping, wake-up lights (which mimic the sun's rays in your bedroom when it's time to rise and shine) can also help you wake up more naturally and not resort to hitting the snooze button.
So after you've added your light therapy lamp to your shopping cart, it may be worth adding some of these products as well.
Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light Therapy Lamp ($179.95, originally $199; amazon.com)
For those who find themselves prone to oversleeping this time of year, the Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light Therapy Lamp could help. Once you set your wake-up time, the device will slowly emit light all around your room to mimic waking up with the sun rising. It's so effective that during an independent study, 92% of respondents found it made it easier to get out of bed.
Montreal Journal ($13.20, originally $22; nordstrom.com)
As Strongin suggests, journaling can be a healthy way to combat the winter blues. Make plans, practice daily mindfulness and reflect on the day with this recycled, eco-friendly option from Snerd.
Note: Prices above reflect the listed retailer's price at time of publication.