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SAD Lamps, Winter Lighting, and Health

Long nights, short days, and cold weather are how we know that it’s winter. During the winter season, the Earth rests with the northern hemisphere tilted away from the sun. The further north you are, the less light is received per day. That lack of light is enough to cool things off, giving us seasons and snow. Seasons are an important part of how our world works, since many plants require cold temperatures to help trigger the end of their dormant state. But the lack of sunlight, paired with being indoors for most of the winter-time can lead to winter depression.

What is SAD or Winter Depression?

You may have heard about seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the past. Others may simply call it winter depression. Whichever name you’ve heard, it’s a seasonal depression that starts in winter and ends in spring or early summer. Many people feel that this depression is related to the passing of the holidays or a typical winter funk. But if you feel down every winter at around the same time, it may be due to winter depression. Symptoms can range from mild depression to major depression and include obvious signs such as low energy, sluggishness, or daily depression. It’s always advisable to speak with a doctor if you’re concerned about seasonal depression. The good news is that a little light may be all you need to help with it.

SAD Lamps and Color Temperature

Specialized lamps are used for a treatment called light therapy. The goal is to resolve seasonal depression by adding the missing sunlight we don’t get due to the longer periods of darkness throughout the winter.

Our bodies are designed to react to certain wavelengths of light. Light therapy is even used to help treat an array of skin disorders. SAD lamps are specially made lights. They operate using three very important factors: intensity, color temperature, and duration.

Intensity: The lumen output of each lamp should be 10,000 lux. Lux is a measurement of luminous flux. Typically it’s calculated by lumen output of the device and how far away from it you will be. Most lamps require a distance of 1-2 feet away. A 10,000 lux light source is going to have a very focused light. For example, a 1,000 lumen light that shines in all directions will not have a lux of 10,000 since the light is shining everywhere. This is the reason for purchasing a specialized light source.

Color Temperature: As humans, we respond to the amber range of light (yellow) more readily than the rest. But to match the sun, we need a much higher color temperature (5500-6000K). All SAD lamps will have “sunlight,” “daylight,” or “natural light” labels to them.

Duration: For light therapy, the amount of exposure is going to be important. Typically a half hour each day is the recommended amount but it varies. Weaker lights, increased distance, or shallower viewing angles all require increased exposure to account for lack of light.

SAD Lamps are Expensive


An active light therapy lamp.

It’s not worth the cost of the lamp if you don’t suffer from winter depression. But we can all use more light in our lives. Daylight color temperature lamps aren’t hard to find either. While the effect will be different, installing a few daylight lamps in your home and leaving them on during the morning can help a little bit. Since individual lights offer less intensity, exposure should be longer. Use a daylight bulb for a reading nook to increase the amount of time you spend.

We advise against using these types of lights at night. Blue/white light (similar to the sun’s light) helps increase activity and could make it more difficult to sleep at night. But adding a little sunlight on an overcast day or week can help brighten your mood.