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Growing up in Colorado, I enjoyed sunny days year-round. Even in the dead of winter, I could count on warm sunbeams. I also had fun facts at the ready about my bright home state. For example, Denver boasts nearly 300 days of sunshine each year.
After I moved to Chicago and then to New York City, I realized what the alternative looks and feels like. It’s quite bleak, even when spring rolls around. I definitely took the bounty of bright days for granted. I learned firsthand how dwindling daylight takes a toll on our mental health.
But there is a literal bright light at the end of this tunnel: a sun lamp. Sun lamps, which simulate the effects of natural sunlight, can make a big difference for many people when it comes to combating the winter blues. They’re a common treatment for seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. The light influences chemicals in the brain which, in turn, improve your mood and treat other symptoms of SAD.
That’s why I was excited to check out the mySun “Sunlight Inside” desk lamp this winter. Currently on Kickstarter, this new light brings something unique to the fight against the darkness. Not only does the lamp look less clinical than most models of sun lamps, it also comes with some additional special features.
Most notably, this lamp is programmed to mimic the movement of the sun, based on where you’re located in the country.
Light It Up
The lamps come in two styles: the clip-on desk lamp version that I tested, and a sit-on-top style that would look great on a bedside table.
My new lamp arrived ready to go. All I had to do was pull it out of the box, connect the base clamp and plug it in. Its small size and adjustable clamp made it easy to move around and fit into tight spaces. I tested it both on my bedside table and in my home office to maximize my time in the light.
“The number of hours dictate the dose of light you receive,” says creator Konrad Jarausch.
Each lamp also comes preset to your geographic location. This means that in the morning the full-spectrum light was cooler, while it slowly morphed into warmer hues in the late afternoon and evening. In other words, it simulated the natural progression of the sun in the sky, providing the same number of hours and intensity of daylight that I’d received if I were outside all day. It also features a manual dimmer, so I could adjust the light.
The Kickstarter page explains how there are immediate mood and energy boosts when you use a sun lamp. The effect is like what you’d experience from spending time outside on a sunny day.
Here Comes the Sun
For a few days, I placed it on an interior windowsill to simulate sun rays streaming in on a bright summer day. Most of the windows in my New York City apartment don’t actually let in light, and instead face brick walls. But with my lamp, even those interior windows offered natural-feeling light, and I noticed a difference. It is ideal for anyone who lives or works in interior spaces like me.
I enjoyed the extra light, and the daily pick-me-up.
But what was perhaps most telling was my dog’s reaction! In the middle of the day, she consistently curled up in a spot right under the light. She loves the sun and will sunbathe in the summer, so even she could recognize the bottled sunshine from the sunlight lamp.
The lamp was light enough to move around my apartment, but I wouldn’t recommend toting it much farther. It also is a bit top-heavy, so I made sure the clamp was secure whenever I reattached it and checked it often.
In my opinion, it’s not particularly kid-friendly. If I had small children around, I would keep it up out of their reach to avoid any accidents. Or I would simply leave it in the office.
In the morning, the lamp’s cool light helps to energize and improve mood. From my own experience, I’d compare it to a morning cup of coffee without the caffeine crash. When I worked next to the light in the mornings, I definitely noticed a productivity boost. In fact, writer’s block was a distant memory. Disclaimer: I still kept up my morning latte habit.
Then, as it adjusts to warmer tones in the later afternoon, the effect shifts to calming and relaxing. Finally, the evening candlelight presumably offers healing benefits. In fact, it’s safe to use overnight. I definitely noticed the shift to warmer, softer tones throughout the day.
The shifting intensity of the light makes this lamp stand out. According to the Sunlight founder and other researchers, the lamp’s calming warm tones can also help improve sleep. The company recommends using the lamp as your primary light source before bedtime, nixing the smartphone—which emits sleep-disrupting blue light—and coffee.
Bright light in the morning is supposed to help cure jet lag as well. Starting the day with the bright light works to reset circadian rhythms. Therefore, you adjust to different time zones faster. I haven’t taken any long trips while using the light, so I can’t speak to that specific effect yet.
Before you run out and get yourself a sun lamp, though, you should know that in order for some of the simpler sun lamps to be effective, it’s recommended that you sit right next to them for at least 30 minutes, with your eyes open, but not staring directly at the light. As for the smart lamps, like the one I tested, you reap the benefits throughout the day. You don’t need a dedicated daily “light session.”
What do you rely on to cope with cloudy days?