Top guide for choosing and using light therapy for winter depression 2014

using_light_therapy_whilst_workingFollowing on from my last post on SAD (seasonal affective disorder) self-help, looking at how to utilise light therapy as a method for dealing with winter depression, here is my top guide for choosing and using light therapy for winter depression.

Winter depression can be quite debilitating and frustrating but it doesn’t have to be like that year-in, year-out. This year, attempt some of the options discussed in my last post and invest in a light therapy lamp – increasing your light exposure, and with it helping the body generate more serotonin to keep your mood up. As always, the more lifestyle adjustments you can implement over a period of time the better your results will be. I‘ve never found one thing alone to be the silver bullet: it’s always been a combination of changes that have brought me to the next level of wellbeing.


Never get up in the dark again – using a dawn simulator alarm

Personally, I find the hardest thing about winter to be getting up whilst it is still dark outside. Come spring when the sun rises at 4:30am I will be up very early, ready to take on the day, but now that the mornings are grey and dark it can be rather tough getting excited about getting up.

As mentioned before, I have been using a sunrise alarm clock since 2006 and I definitely find it makes waking up that little bit easier, especially when I wake up before the actual alarm sound, something which was really nasty on my old model (they didn’t do nice sounds back then).

I’ve had a search around and shortlisted 5 models of dawn simulation alarms based on different budgets.


Daw/ sunrise simulation alarm clocks for every budget, reviewed:

 Maxim_LED_Sunrise_Alarm_Clock Muse_ML-30_CR_surise_alarm Medisana_Sunrise_Wake_Up_Light_Alarm_Clock  Philips_HF3470_Wake_Up_Light_Alarm_Clock Lumie_Bodyclock_ELITE_300
Maxim LED Sunrise Alarm Clock 

from £8.38

Muse ML-30 CR 

from £39.26

Medisana Sunrise Wake Up Light Alarm Clockfrom 

from £55.19

Philips HF3470 Wake Up Light Alarm Clock 

from £90.00

Lumie Bodyclock ELITE 300 

from £160.00

  • Requires 3 x AA batteries
  • Has a DC port so can be powered by mains
  • Digital display
  • 10 Natural Sound Alarms
  • gradual Light Up over 60min
  • 12 or 24 hour display
  • Date and temperature display
  • Can also be used to send you to sleep as the relaxing sounds turn off automatically after 30 minutes
  • Light can be used independently
  • Soft light, sounds of nature or music, fall asleep with the sunset and come out of your dreams with rising sun.
  • Multicolor ambience light with color selection
  • White light with adjustable brightness
  • Wake with progressive light on sounds of nature, radio or buzzer
  • Sleep function with gradually dimming light
  • Dual alarm, Snooze, NAP & Calendar functions
  • 2 Band Radio FM/MW, digital read-out
  • LCD display with white LED backlight and dimmer
  • Line-in jack for Cell phone/MP3 player…
  • Energy saving LED lighting
  • AC operated
  • Battery backup:2×1,5V AAA/R03/UM4 type (not supplied)
  • Relaxed wake-up with artificial sunrise: gradually increasing light for 30 minutes before your wake-up
  • Long-lasting, energy-saving LED lighting
  • Integrated radio
  • 8 natural sounds with increasing volume
  • MP3 player connection is possible
  • Snooze function and zizz button (extra timer for alarm after 15 to 90 minutes)
  • Large, easy-to-read display with dimmer function (adjustable light + dark)
  • 2 adjustable alarms
  • Colour-changing wellness light with 7 colours

Note: this clock comes with a European plug, so you need a adapter to be able to plug it in.

  • starts producing light from 30 minutes before your set wake-up time
  • light gradually brightens
  • 2 sounds: bird singing or a friendly beep, which starts out quietly and then gradually increasing the sound
  • select preferred light intensity, up to 250 LUX,
  • Built-in digital FM radio wakes you to your favourite songs or news station which starts out quietly and then gradually increasing the sound
  • 15, 30, 60 or 90-minute sunrise to wake naturally/ sunset to wind down for bed
  • AM/FM radio to listen to your favourite station after waking
  • SD slot to play MP3 tracks
  • Choice of wake-up sounds to enhance your sunrise, including dawn chorus, waves and rain
  • Guided meditation by Meditainment, experts in audio for sleep and well-being
  • White noise setting to mask sounds that might keep you awake
  • A choice of relaxing sounds to lull you to sleep
  • 7 day alarm setting
  • Dimmable lighting for use as a bedside light
  • Nightlight feature
  • Snooze feature
  • Security option to turn on the light randomly while you’re away
  • Back-ups: optional alarm beep, power failure back-up

They all offer dawn simulation, so you need to check what additional features they provide – for example, how many sounds are available? The more expensive ones also offer radio; some offer iPod connectivity, which is good if you want to use your own sounds I guess (though I highly advise you set you phone to airplane mode or you’ll just disrupt your sleep as the phone tries to stay connected to the network sending and receiving information). You may also be concerned by the snooze function and how long it postpones, though you should not need it. Lastly, I think it’s interesting that the standard dawn simulation is over 30min, though Lumie have the option to set from 15min to over 90min, which I find is a nice feature though not essential when you are still in the process of finding out what works for you.

Waking up to light definitely makes it easier to start the day, but don’t expect to be jumping out of bed with pure joy – that would be expecting a little too much from this type of wake-up support.

I’ve talked about sleep and bed times before, but I’ll mention it again: if you don’t go to bed at a reasonable time, between 10-11pm, you can’t expect a sunrise alarm to save you at the other end of the night. We all need a certain amount of sleep, it varies slightly from person to person but the body needs enough time to go through physical and mental repair for us to be fully functioning during our waking hours. You should guard your sleep like you would guard your life because life is better when you are well rested and full of energy.


Using light therapy to deal with winter blues

In addition to getting up with a simulated sunrise you can use a light therapy lamp to help the body feel better during the short, dark winter days.

Light therapy has been shown to be highly effective in alleviating depression that is identified as being due to lack of light during the winter months.

A light therapy lamp can be used to counteract the following symptoms of winter depression:

• Fatigue
• Mood swings
• Listlessness
• Sleepiness
• Lack of concentration
• Lack of appetite


What time, frequency and duration of use do you need to consider to enjoy effective light therapy?

The most effective time of day to use the light therapy lamp is between 6am and 3pm. You can use the unit for up to 2 hours daily.

You can use the light therapy lamp as often as you like, I often have it on whilst working on the PC and when I feel I need a little bit more I just start the session off again. The treatment is most effective if you use it on at least five consecutive days, essentially you need to use it regularly to consistently get enough light to keep your mood and energy up.

The length of time you should use the light therapy lamp per session depends on how far you are away from it:

You can see in the table below how different the distance for each lamp is to get a full 10,000 LUX (the measuring unite for light strength). The closer the lamp has to be to get the highest LUX number the longer you have to use it when you can not guarantee to be that close to it for the whole duration of your light bath. It is interesting that a budget lamp is stated to have 10,000 LUX at 40cm whereas the mid-range price lamps have to be a lot closer to get the same light output.

The strongest light output per distance is given on the SAD Diamond model which states it can deliver 10,000 LUX at 61cm which would give you a lot more flexibility to do some work while sitting to have your light therapy.

My personal favourite is the budget model because it combines a good range with an excellent first-time buyer price.

Of course you may also want to consider the actual physical size of whichever lamp you will go for and whether it fits within where you are looking to use it.

I currently only have the Philips goLITE which gives off blue light, which seemed like a good product when I researched it many years ago. I have not included any blue light lamps in the table below because I am not 100% sure that just blue light is most effective. I think for the actual perceived feeling during the light therapy session a white light may be nicer. This article explains that blue light is always included in white spectrum light too, and had an article about it last year if you’d like to look at the benefit of blue light.


 Light Therapy lamps compared for every budget:

 SAD_LIGHT_THERAPY_DAYLIGHT_SUNLIGHT_BOX_LAMP Lite_Pod_SAD_Lightbox  Lumie_Brazil_SAD_Light_Box SAD_Diamond_4_Light_Box
SAD Light therapy daylight sunlight box lamp 10,000Lux
from £50.00
SAD LitePod 

from £114.99

Lumie Brazil SAD Light Box – 10,000Lux Therapy Lamp 
from £149
SAD Diamond 4 Light Box 

from £199.99

  • 10,000 Lux at 40cm
  • Recommended treatment time: 30 minutes
  • Dimensions: 30 x 10 x 48cm
  • 10,000 LUX at 23cm
  • Recommended treatment time: 45-60 minutes
  • Dimensions: 38 x 12.5 x 12.5 cm
  • 10,000 Lux at 35cm
  • Recommended treatment time: 30 minutes
  • Dimensions: 50cm x 32cm x 15cm
  • 10,000 LUX at 61cm
  • A full treatment can be achieved in just 20 minutes
  • Dimensions: 61 x 10 x 33 cm


Dawn simulator and light therapy combination lamps

There are a few combination products that do both the dawn simulation/alarm clock function and the light therapy, although you’ll have to consider that it may not be practical to carry your alarm clock back and forth, to and from work, you may forget to pack it, etc. However, it might be helpful if you travel a lot and need to deal with jetlag and winter depression.


Lumie_Zest_Combination_Light_Therapy  Philips_goLITE_BLU_energy_light
Lumie- Zest combination wake-up and SAD light from £125 Philips goLITE BLU Light Therapy Devicefrom £159
  • 15 or 30-minute sunrise to wake you up gradually
  • Variable final brightness to create your perfect sunrise
  • Optional alarm beep
  • Timer for bright light therapy sessions
  • Selection of light levels from 20% to 100% – choose maximum brightness for quick light therapy treatment
  • Independently verified to deliver 2,000 LUX at 50cm
  • LEDs provide extra light output in the blue part of the spectrum that regulates your body clock
  • Recommended treatment time: 30 minutes, though you may find 20 minutes does the trick
  • Handy size for home, work or travel (mains-powered) and ideal for use as part of a jet lag plan.
  • Blue LED technology
  • It is recommended to use the light for 15-45 minutes a day
  • Light intensity dimmer 4 levels
  • Small, portable design with travel adapter
  • Rechargeable – can be used without mains connection
  • Built-in clock
  • Treatment timer + reminder alarm
  • Alarm has three modes: chime only, light only or both chime and light
  • 100% UV-free blue light
  • Weighs just 12 ounces/340 grams
  • May help combat the effects of jet lag
  • Note: this one does not have a sunrise simulation as far as I can tell


Overall, I think two separate lamps at budget prices for each of the two winter depression supports are a better idea – one sunrise alarm and one actual exclusive light therapy lamp – than a combination device.

Once you feel that light therapy and dawn simulation are effective for you, you can always invest in a better product in the future.

I’d love to hear from you, do you have a sunrise clock or a light therapy box already? Do you feel it makes a difference for you? If you are just about to invest in light therapy – let me know how you are getting on, which product you have chosen in the end, and why?

It would be great to update this article with your experiences, please drop me an email.

(Note all prices and links were accurate at time of creating this blog post, I do not have any affiliation with any of the brands mentioned/listed, I purely researched and listed what I found was most useful in my opinion at the time this was published)


Leave a Reply