I tried a lamp that’s supposed to make you feel happy in the winter, but I didn’t notice any change

Me and my lamp.

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Me and my lamp.
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INSIDER/Gabbi Shaw

  • SAD lamps – or light therapy boxes – are said to treat seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
  • The light, which mimics outdoor light, claims to help combat your body’s lack of serotonin due to no sunlight, and to help your body get used to waking up in the morning with no natural light.
  • I used a SAD lamp every day for a month. Since I don’t have SAD, I didn’t notice a big change in my mood, but I did appreciate the natural light source in my morning routine.

SAD lamps (or light therapy boxes), a form of light therapy meant to combat seasonal depression by mimicking sunlight, are all the rage right now. One even appeared in an episode of “Broad City.” But do they actually work? The jury is still out.

I, like most people, can sometimes feel a bit down during the endless gray days of a New York City winter. I wake up before the sun rises, and I leave my office after the sun sets. I don’t get a lot of time to soak up vitamin D.

Even though I don’t have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), I decided to use a SAD lamp for a month to see if it would improve my mood.

If you do want to try out a SAD lamp and you do have SAD, you should definitely reach out to a medical professional first. Light therapy doesn’t work for everyone and has been found to induce mania in some people with bipolar disorder, or interact negatively with certain medications.

Light box therapy is used to combat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), aka seasonal depression. The idea is that bright, white light can help offset the effects of winter and its lack of sunlight.

For my experiment, I used the Verilux® Happy Light Liberty 5K Natural Spectrum Energy Lamp, which retails for $39.99 on Amazon. That’s on the lower end of the spectrum, price-wise. They can run into the triple digits.

Full disclosure: I don’t have SAD, so I can’t speak to its effectiveness for dealing with it. Mainly, like most people, I just feel a little down during the winter when days are shorter and I see little sunlight.

The goal is to help your internal body clock get on track. During the fall and winter months – especially after daylight savings ends – most people wake up in the morning before sunrise.

A theory posits that lack of sunlight hampers our body’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate our mood.

Doctors recommend using a SAD lamp for 20 to 30 minutes every morning. This is supposed to let your brain know that another 24-hour cycle has begun, and help wake you up in the morning.

I decided to try using the light for a month, to see if it affected my mood or helped me wake up in the morning.

The first day with my SAD lamp had the ideal conditions – a stormy morning that was completely pitch black.

Day one.

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Day one.
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INSIDER/Gabbi Shaw

As you can see through my window, there was absolutely no light shining that morning. I always have trouble waking up in the morning, let alone on a day with no natural light.

Clearly, I’m a big fan of lights – my makeup mirror has lights built in, and you can see my Himalayan salt lamp peeking out behind my SAD lamp.

But since I have trouble waking up in the dark, I was running late. I didn’t have time to sit in front of my lamp for half an hour. I would have to budget extra time for my light in the morning for the rest of the month.

The lamp does provide great selfie lighting. I don’t normally look this happy at six in the morning with no makeup.

Not my normal 6 a.m. look.

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Not my normal 6 a.m. look.
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INSIDER/Gabbi Shaw

Natural light is supposed to be the best selfie lighting, and this no-makeup selfie with the SAD lamp proves the theory.

Just so you can fully see how bright this light is, here’s how much it illuminated my little desk nook, without any other light being turned on.

Don't mind my Mickey Mouse Pillow Pet.

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Don’t mind my Mickey Mouse Pillow Pet.
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INSIDER/Gabbi Shaw

The jury is still out within the medical community if SAD lamps are truly beneficial to those living with seasonal depression. You don’t need a prescription to buy one.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, half of people with SAD do not benefit from light therapy alone. And it’s not feasible for everyone. As I said, you need to park yourself in front of this lamp for 30 minutes a day, and you’re supposed to keep up with this for six months. Not everyone has that time or discipline.

As the month went on, I was able to settle into a routine. My favorite thing to use my SAD lamp for was makeup. It provided much better light than my dim light bulb.

Doing your makeup in the correct light is important. Natural light has been recommended as the best lighting for makeup, and this lamp supported this theory. I was able to tone down my foundation – a little goes a long way.

One thing I did notice is that the top of the lamp would get very hot a few minutes after it was turned on.

As the month went on, I definitely noticed that I would feel more awake in the morning, but was it because of the lamp or because I was waking up earlier and had more leisurely mornings?

There’s something to be said for waking up earlier and giving yourself a few extra minutes in the morning. I was able to get fully awake and ready for the day before hopping on the train to work. That said, I’m not sure it was the lamp or the extra time that helped me.

But the experiment did leave me wondering, how will my body react once I stop using the lamp?

happy lamp selfie

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INSIDER/Gabbi Shaw

I’m curious if I’ll have trouble adjusting back to life without my SAD lamp – the one I used was loaned to me.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, some people do become dependent on light therapy to combat their depression. The study examined the effectiveness of light therapy versus cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), a collaborative practice between therapist and patient that aims to identify, understand, and change behavior or thinking patterns.

The study found that after three years, relapses in depression were higher in the participants that used SAD lamps once they were taken away from them than in participants who used CBT. According to The Cut, which interviewed leader of the study Kelly J. Rohan, “people who did light therapy had a relapse rate of 46% versus 27% in the CBT group, and they had more severe symptoms, too.”

In other words, treating your seasonal depression with a SAD lamp might not be the most effective long-term solution.

At the end of the month, my main take away was that my SAD lamp had turned into an extra makeup light.

I didn’t notice a big enough change in my mood to truly believe in my lamp, but that could have been because I don’t have seasonal depression.

The biggest lesson I learned was that it might be time to invest in a makeup light of my own. It helped me see that I was using more makeup than I needed to be because of the poor lighting in my room.

Although results about the effectiveness of SAD lamps for every individual are inconclusive, I would still recommend speaking to a doctor and, if approved, trying one out.

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