Do Light Therapy Lamps Work? I Tried One For A Week & It Made A Big Difference In My Energy
I am someone who is perpetually tired in the mornings, even with four shots of espresso and seven hours of sleep. On top of living with chronic health issues, I’m a night owl through and through — and during the dark, cold winter, especially so. With so much hype around light therapy lamps as a non-prescription treatment option for people who experience mood shifts and fatigue during the winter months, I knew I had to give it a shot to see if it would give me an energy or mood boost.
Seasonal affective disorder, aka SAD, is a type of depression that ebbs and flows with the seasons. As the American Family Physician reported, 4 to 6 percent of people in the U.S. are estimated to have winter depression, and another 10 to 20 percent are believed to have mild SAD. Enter: Light therapy. “Long periods of dark and a lack of sun exposure gets your sleep-wake rhythm thrown off. Sun lamps reset it,” Dr. Robert Cain, a family medicine physician at the Cleveland Clinic explained, adding that the lamp can increase the production of hormones that help your mood and energy levels. It can be administered by a mental health professional, but many people opt to try it at home. Though light therapy is traditionally used as an adjunct therapy for people who have SAD, research has discovered light therapy may also help treat nonseasonal depression, bulimia, bipolar depression, and even symptoms of borderline personality disorder.
As someone diagnosed with both borderline personality disorder bipolar II disorder — meaning I experience depressive episodes more often than hypomanic episodes, especially during the winter months — I decided to buy a lamp to try at home. I went with the Circadian Optics Lampu Light Therapy Lamp, which retails on Amazon for $64.99, has over 170 reviews that are overwhelmingly positive, and a 4.5-star rating. (It’s worth noting that Circadian Optics makes several different light therapy lamps with similar ratings, and hundreds of more reviews; I just liked the shape of this particular lamp.)
According to Circadian Optics’ website, the Lampu was designed to “help beat the winter blues, circadian sleep disorders, shift work adjustment, and fatigue.” It puts out 10,000 lux (aka, a measurement of light intensity) full spectrum LED lighting that’s U.V. free, and that “closely mimics the qualities of natural sunlight.” What’s more, the lamp itself has three different settings so you can change the brightness and intensity of the lamp.
For optimal use, the directions recommend placing the lamp eight inches to two feet away from you, off to the side, and using it some time during the A.M. They also note that most people find 15 to 60 minute sessions to be their sweet spot.
For the first couple days, I tried to follow these directions pretty strictly to get a general feel for the lamp. I turned it on around 9 A.M., set it on my coffee table, and planned for thirty minutes of light therapy while I drank my coffee. I know the point of a light therapy lamp is to jumpstart your day and energy, but somehow I didn’t expect just how bright it would be? I opted to set the lamp two feet away from me, but after a few minutes on the highest brightness setting, I chose to turn it down to medium. After the half hour, I felt a little more awake and I could still work on my laptop without being totally overwhelmed by the brightness.
A few days into using the lamp regularly in the mornings, my city was hit with a small winter storm and a blanket of smog that covered the city. I got to really see if the Lampu could help kick my circadian rhythm into action on a dark winter day. I definitely felt like it gave me a small boost — almost like getting an extra shot or two of espresso in your latte, without experiencing the nasty side effects of drinking too much caffeine. Though the lamp doesn’t compare to feeling of natural light you get from waking up to the sunrise, I did feel less grumpy (and less groggy) about the blizzard brewing outside my window.
About half way into my week-long test, I began playing around with the time of day I used the Lampu. Like many people, I experience that that 2:30 feeling on almost a daily basis — aka, I get tired AF mid-afternoon. This feeling often worsens during the winter, when the days grow darker earlier in the evening.
Just as I had in the mornings, I aimed for a half hour of light therapy time, but kept the setting on the lowest brightness. I’m happy that I switched it up, because opting for the light therapy a tad later in the day actually seemed to be most effective for me. It helped me get through the afternoon lull without resorting to a second cup of coffee, or a nap that interrupted my day. Overall, light therapy in the afternoon was a more pleasant and beneficial experience in my opinion: I didn’t feel my eyes were as strained by the light box, and I just felt more energized.
By the end of the week, I got into a groove of using it for about 15 minutes in the morning to supplement my morning coffee, and also scheduled in a thirty-minute session around 2 P.M.
Throughout the week, I definitely experienced the cumulative impact of making an effort to at least spend a little bit of time in front of the lamp in the morning or early afternoon. As the week moved along, I felt more energized by the lamp each day, and definitely felt a decrease in my sensitivity to the brightness.
If you’ve ever wanted to try a light therapy lamp — whether as a adjunct treatment for a mental health issue, or just to give yourself a boost of energy before work — it’s worth discussing it with your doctor or therapist. Light therapy lamps aren’t a cure-all for fatigue or depression, but as someone with both, I'll keep on using it as a supplemental therapy.