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Sun Lamp: Uses, Myths, Health Risks, and Cost of Sun Lamp

What is a Sun Lamp?

Sun lamps, also known as light therapy boxes, lightboxes, or bright light boxes, are lamps that mimic natural outdoor light. This special light is used in light therapy, which is an effective form of treatment for people suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Due to this, a sun lamp is sometimes also referred to as a SAD lamp.(1, 2, 3, 4)

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that affects people during the fall and winter months when the number of hours of sunlight goes down. The light from a sun lamp is used in the treatment of this form of depression as it has a positive effect on the production of the hormones serotonin and melatonin in the body.(5) These hormones are responsible for controlling the body’s sleep and wake cycle. Serotonin is also known to help decrease anxiety and boost your mood. Low levels of serotonin in the body have been linked to depression.(6, 7)

Sun lamps emit artificial light that, to the bran and your eyes, feels and looks very similar to being outside in the sun. Sitting near a sun lamp for certain set periods in the day every day is a way to get more of the bright light that the body craves, which in turn, helps people with seasonal affective disorder feel better.(8)

The lamps are sometimes also used in the treatment of non-seasonal depression, jet lag, and sleeping problems. Sun lamps can also help shift workers adjust better to their early morning or nighttime hours.(9)

Sun Lamp: Uses, Myths, Health Risks, and Cost of Sun Lamp

Uses of Sun Lamps

A sun lamp is most commonly used for treating seasonal affective disorder. However, light therapy and sun lamps can also be used in the treatment of many other conditions, including:(10, 11)

  1. Using a Sun Lamp for Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

    Seasonal affective disorder, as mentioned above, is a type of depression that starts and ends at approximately the same time of the year every year. This is usually observed during the fall and winter months when the days start becoming shorter, and there is less sunlight. People who live in the northern hemisphere are known to be relatively more vulnerable to developing seasonal affective disorder than people to live in warmer climates.(12)

    Often people assume that seasonal affective disorder is not a real condition as it passes with the arrival of spring or summer. However, SAD can cause debilitating symptoms, including low energy, feeling depressed for the better part of the day, and even suicidal thoughts. Weight gain, loss of appetite, and oversleeping are some of the common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

    Doctors often recommend people with seasonal affective disorder to sit in front of a sun lamp from the first hour of waking up every day to improve symptoms. An improvement can be seen within just a few days to a few weeks.(13)

    According to a study carried out in 2009, positive results from using a sun lamp could be observed as quickly as within just 20 minutes in the first session.(14) Since light therapy works quickly and has minimal side effects, it is usually the first line of treatment prescribed by doctors for seasonal affective disorder instead of antidepressants.

    According to studies, light therapy has been shown to also improve serotonin activity in the body and also increase the production of melatonin. This is known to help boost your mood and help restore the circadian rhythms to promote better sleep.(15)

  2. Using a Sun Lamp for Treating Dementia

    Research has shown that light therapy using a sun lamp can help treat sleep disturbances that are associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.(16)

    Sleeping problems are quite common in people who have dementia and may also lead to depression and agitation. Light therapy is known to help improve these symptoms. At the same time, the effect of light therapy along with the use of 24-hour lighting schemes offered in care facilities are being evaluated as treatment options. According to a recent study done in 2018, insufficient exposure to high-intensity light during the daytime can adversely impact the well-being and health of residents with dementia at care facilities.(17)

  3. Using a Sun Lamp for Treating Sleeping Disorders

    Bright light therapy is also being used as an effective treatment for some forms of sleep-wake disturbances. Certain types of sleep disorders, shift work, and jet lag can upset the body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock that helps you remain alert in the daytime hours and go to sleep at night. When the circadian rhythm of the body gets upset, it can lead to extreme fatigue and even insomnia or other sleep problems. It can also disrupt your ability to function.(18)

    Exposure to artificial light from a sun lamp at certain times during the day can help align and get your circadian rhythm back on track, thus improving your sleep and wake times.(19)

  4. Using a Sun Lamp for Treating Depression

    Light therapy with a sun lamp is sometimes also used to treat certain types of non-seasonal depression. A study in 2016 looked at the effectiveness of light therapy on its own, as well as in combination with antidepressants.(20) The study found that both the approaches were helpful. Participants in the study were divided into three groups. One group received a placebo pill and light therapy. One group was given an antidepressant and a placebo light device. And the third group got light therapy and an antidepressant.

    The study found that light therapy, when used in combination with an antidepressant or alone, was able to better combat the symptoms of depression as compared to a placebo.

Certain Myths About Using a Sun Lamp

It is important to understand that the sun lamps used for tanning and those used in the treatment of skin disorders are not the same as the sun lamps used for treating seasonal affective disorder and the other conditions mentioned above.

Sun lamps used for the treatment of SAD filter out most or nearly all of the ultraviolet light. Using the wrong type of lamp for treating SAD may cause damage to your eyes and also cause some other side effects.

The type of sum lamps used in the treatment of SAD will not increase your vitamin D levels or give you a tan.

Are There Are Health Risks Of Using A Sun Lamp?

Sun lamps are typically considered to be safe because they do not give off any ultraviolet radiation. If there are any potential side effects, they are usually mild and tend to go away on their own within a couple of days. Some of the potential side effects of using a sun lamp may include:

You might be able to manage the side effects from a sun lamp by opting to sit a bit further away from the lamp or by reducing ht time you spend in front of the sun lamp. Some people might experience a heightened sensitivity to light due to some underlying medical conditions like lupus, macular degeneration, or connective tissue disorders. In people with bipolar disorder, light therapy might lead to a manic episode, which is why it is always recommended that you consult your doctor before you start light therapy, especially if you have any of these medical conditions.

How To Use A Sun Lamp?

If you want to get the best possible results from a sun lamp, the light should enter your eyes in an indirect manner. You need to keep your eyes open, but you should not look directly at the light. Morning time is the best time to use your sun lamp for light therapy.

A sun lamp that has an intensity of 10,000 lux is typically recommended for people with seasonal affective disorder. This is 9,900 lux, more than what your average standard household light gives out.

These lamps are available in different intensities, and the time you should be spending in front of a sun lamp ideally depends on the intensity of the lamp. Here are some tips on how to use a sun lamp properly to get the best results:

  • Put your sun lamp on your desk or table at least 16 to 25 inches away from your face.
  • Position the sun lamp at ideally 30 degrees overhead, and make sure not to look directly at the light.
  • Sit in front of the sun lamp for at least 20 to 30 minutes, or for the time period recommended by your doctor or the lamp manufacturer.
  • Try to use the sun lamp at the same time every day.

Where To Buy A Sun Lamp?

It is possible to buy a sun lamp from any retail store or online. There is no need to get have a prescription for a sun lamp. The average cost of a sun lamp is around $150, though the price can vary depending on the brand, retailer, and intensity. You should ideally select a sun lamp that uses bright white light to get the best results for seasonal affective disorder.


Regular use of a sun lamp can help boost your mood and alleviate the other symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. However, it is better to consult a doctor before you start using a sun lamp, and always make sure to follow the guidelines issued by the manufacturer before you begin using the sun lamp.


  1. Levitt, A.J., Wesson, V.A., Joffe, R.T., Maunder, R.G. and King, E.F., 1996. A controlled comparison of light box and head-mounted units in the treatment of seasonal depression. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 57(3), pp.105-110.
  2. Partonen, T. and Lönnqvist, J., 1998. Seasonal affective disorder. CNS drugs, 9(3), pp.203-212.
  3. Kurlansik, S.L. and Ibay, A.D., 2012. Seasonal affective disorder. American family physician, 86(11), pp.1037-1041.
  4. Magnusson, A. and Boivin, D., 2003. Seasonal affective disorder: an overview. Chronobiology international, 20(2), pp.189-207.
  5. Eagles, J.M., 2009. Light therapy and seasonal affective disorder. Psychiatry, 8(4), pp.125-129.
  6. Meltzer, H.Y., 1990. Role of serotonin in depression. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
  7. Baldwin, D. and Rudge, S., 1995. The role of serotonin in depression and anxiety. International clinical psychopharmacology.
  8. Tuunainen, A., Kripke, D.F. and Endo, T., 2004. Light therapy for non‐seasonal depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (2).
  9. Lam, C. and Chung, M.H., 2021. Dose–response effects of light therapy on sleepiness and circadian phase shift in shift workers: a meta-analysis and moderator analysis. Scientific Reports, 11(1), pp.1-16.
  10. Forbes, D., Culum, I., Lischka, A.R., Morgan, D.G., Peacock, S., Forbes, J. and Forbes, S., 2009. Light therapy for managing cognitive, sleep, functional, behavioural, or psychiatric disturbances in dementia. Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (4).
  11. Hanford, N. and Figueiro, M., 2013. Light therapy and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia: past, present, and future. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 33(4), pp.913-922.
  12. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). 2022. Seasonal Affective Disorder. [online] Available at: <https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder> [Accessed 11 February 2022].
  13. Cleveland Clinic. 2022. 3 Tips to Fight Seasonal Depression. [online] Available at: <https://health.clevelandclinic.org/seasonal-affective-disorder-beyond-the-winter-blues/> [Accessed 11 February 2022].
  14. Virk, G., Reeves, G., Rosenthal, N.E., Sher, L. and Postolache, T.T., 2009. Short exposure to light treatment improves depression scores in patients with seasonal affective disorder: A brief report. International Journal on Disability and Human Development, 8(3), pp.283-286.
  15. Melrose, S., 2015. Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression research and treatment, 2015.
  16. Hanford, N. and Figueiro, M., 2013. Light therapy and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia: past, present, and future. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 33(4), pp.913-922.
  17. Konis, K., 2018. Field evaluation of the circadian stimulus potential of daylit and non-daylit spaces in dementia care facilities. Building and Environment, 135, pp.112-123.
  18. Roberts, J.E., 2010. Circadian rhythm and human health. Department of Natural Sciences, Room, 813, p.2010.
  19. Gammack, J.K., 2008. Light therapy for insomnia in older adults. Clinics in geriatric medicine, 24(1), pp.139-149.
  20. Lam, R.W., Levitt, A.J., Levitan, R.D., Michalak, E.E., Cheung, A.H., Morehouse, R., Ramasubbu, R., Yatham, L.N. and Tam, E.M., 2016. Efficacy of bright light treatment, fluoxetine, and the combination in patients with nonseasonal major depressive disorder: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA psychiatry, 73(1), pp.56-63.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 28, 2022

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