Will a SAD Sun Lamp Actually Make You Happy?

Light therapy boosts sleep, fights depression for some

Will a SAD Sun Lamp Actually Make You Happy?

If you’re sleeping too much, feeling depressed or have your days and nights mixed up during the winter months, have you considered using a sun lamp?

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The light delivered through sun lamps is often particularly effective for people suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), according to family medicine practitioner Robert Cain, MD.

“Long periods of dark and a lack of sun exposure gets your sleep-wake rhythm thrown off. Sun lamps reset it,” he says.

Sun lamps positively impact your body’s regulation of melatonin, a hormone that helps control your sleep-wake cycle, as well as serotonin, which helps regulate your mood by relaying signals in your brain.

Do I need a prescription for a sun lamp?

Sun lamps are widely available at many retail stores, and they’re relatively affordable, Dr. Cain says. The average price is around $150.

Any doctor that treats depression — a primary care provider, psychiatrist or psychologist — can recommend light therapy, but you don’t need a prescription to buy a sun lamp.

If you are considering trying sun lamp therapy, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about whether it’s right for you.

Sun lamp therapy works best with bright, white light, Dr. Cain says. Research shows red, blue and green light isn’t as effective.

RELATED: Seasonal Affective Disorder: Beyond the Winter Blues

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Are sun lamps safe?

Sun lamps don’t give off ultraviolet radiation, so they pose little risk to most people, Dr. Cain says. It’s a good idea to ask your doctor if any medication you take makes you more sensitive to light.

Avoid using one if you have:

  • Macular degeneration
  • Connective tissue damage
  • Existing skin cancers
  • Lupus

Individuals with bipolar disorder should use a mood stabilizer with a sun lamp, Dr. Cain says, because the added light exposure can incite a manic episode.

Evidence is scant on the safety of using sun lamps with children, but Dr. Cain says they are effective under certain circumstances.

“If a child has been diagnosed with depression, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it,” he says. “I think it’s pretty safe. Just make sure he or she doesn’t look directly at the light.”

RELATED: What To Do If Your Teen Has Signs of Depression

How do I use a sun lamp?

Position the lamp overhead by 30 degrees, Dr. Cain says, because light receptors are at the bottom of your eyes. Never look directly into the light.

The therapeutic goal is 5,000 lux (the standard unit of illumination) per hour of light therapy, but he recommends using a 10,000 lux bulb for 30 minutes. (A standard household light averages 100 lux.)

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Light therapy via sun lamps is most effective in the mornings, so Dr. Cain advises patients to use the lamp daily while they eat breakfast or have coffee.

Also, even though it’s a light-based therapy, sun lamps don’t impact Vitamin D production. Be sure to get your vitamin D through your diet and/or supplements as your doctor advises.

RELATED: Think Your Child Gets Enough Vitamin D? You Might Be Surprised

What about sunrise alarm clocks?

Sunrise alarm clocks  are similar to sun lamps. These devices are basically alarm clocks that you set to mimic the sunrise. They do not emit  UV rays and have equal efficacy to sun lamps.

For maximum benefit, Dr. Cain recommends setting the clock to resemble a sunrise in June or July.

Your eyes can absorb the light through your eyelids, so you wake up gradually and may take care of your light therapy before you even get out of bed.