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How to pick a SAD lamp to alleviate the winter doldrums

What to look for in a SAD lamp and where to buy one right now.
James O'Neil Getty Images
How to bring more light to the longest month of the year.

Grey days, long nights and the constant deep-freeze weather is not exactly a mood elevator.

Back in November, Vancouver Is Awesome spoke to Dr. Raymond Lam, a professor at the University of British Columbia, about SAD (seasonal affective disorder). It's triggered by fall and winter climate, and impacts one in 100 Canadians. It's different than the “winter blahs” (which roughly 15% of Canadians feel).

A SAD lamp is one tool recommended for both.

But grabbing the first one that pops up on Amazon isn’t sufficient.

The UBC Mood Disorders Centre outlines exactly what to look for in a SAD lamp: it should be fluorescent white light, 10,000 lux (a measure of intensity), tested by scientists, filter UV rays (which can be harmful), have a track record of positive reviews, and be approved by a third-party certification group (like CSA).

There are specific ways to use a SAD lamp: set aside 30 minutes a day to start, place it on a desk or table so the light can reach your face, do not sleep (eyes should be open) but eating or reading is OK, and if it causes side effects (like dizziness or nausea), lessen the dosage time. (There’s a helpful list of user advice on the UBC website). 

The UBC Mood Disorder Centre recommends some specific lamps from Canadian companies and we’ve tracked down two for the top of our list. We’ve added three others we’ve sourced using all of the requirements recommended above and the robust and detailed user feedback.

THE HIGH-END SAD LAMP

Boxelite.

Out of Quebec, Northern Lights Technologies Boxelite checks all the boxes: 10,000 lux, UV blocking, large screen and full spectrum light (which is recommended, but comes at a higher price point).

Who it's ideal for: Anyone looking for a top-of-the-line light with a solid reputation. 

Why we're endorsing it: Full spectrum light, positive user reviews, made in Canada. 

Where it could use improvements: Some reviewers want a sturdier stand.

Size/weight/dimensions: 17” H, 8’ cord.

Available at Amazon and directly through Northern Light Technologies.

THE QUALITY ECONOMIC PICK

Carex light.

There are a few reasons we zoned in on this Carex Brands 801000 Sunlite Bright Therapy Lamp: it’s Canadian (out of Halifax), 10,000 lux, filters 99.3% of UV light, and it’s one of the least expensive options, without sacrificing any of the recommended standards for SAD lamps. 

Who it's ideal for: Anyone who wants to experiment with a SAD lamp without overspending.

Why we're endorsing it: Brand trust, price, compact size.

Where it could use improvements: This one does not adjust in height or angle.

Size/weight/dimensions: 10”, 3.25 lbs.

Available at Amazon and is currently sold out on the Carex website

THE LAMP WITH A BLUE LIGHT OPTION

Blue light lamp.

This PureGuardian SPA50CA with 10,000 lux is different from the rest on the list because it has white and blue light options (while many find blue light beneficial, it’s been less scientifically studied than white light). This lamp also has a USB port and LED bulbs, eliminating the need for replacement bulbs for a very long time.

Who it's ideal for: Anyone who wants a compact light with a blue light feature.

Why we're endorsing it: Brand reputation, key features like the USB port and LED bulbs.

Where it could use improvements: The max timer is 30 minutes.

Size/weight/dimensions: 6.75’ W x 9.5’ H.

Available at Best Buy or directly through Guardian Technologies.

THE ALL-OVER-AMAZON LIGHT

Verilux light.

A search of SAD lamps will undoubtedly lead to Verilux. There are at least eight different models that are full spectrum 10,000 lux and UV-free, and while there’s a solid best-seller in the popular LumiPlus, the HappyLight Luxe is the largest size of the bunch and is currently on sale.

Who it's ideal for: Anyone who wants a full checklist of features and slim design.

Why we're endorsing it: Established company, warranty, adjustable brightness.

Where it could use improvements: Some users report that it’s... too bright.

Size/weight/dimensions: 11.8” x 0.5” x 7.5”.

Available at Amazon.

THE MULTI-TASKING DESK LAMP

Theralite lamp.

For a SAD lamp that can fit into a workstation or on a nightstand without taking up valuable real estate, there’s this Theralite Radiance Light Therapy Lamp. Beyond the 10,000 lux full spectrum LED light, there’s a USB port, wireless charging station and alarm clock.

Who it's ideal for: Someone who wants a SAD light that doubles as a lamp.

Why we're endorsing it: Unique design, light angle can be adjusted, and multiple other uses.

Where it could use improvements: With the alarm clock, there’s no sunrise option.

Size/weight/dimensions: 10” H.

Available at Amazon