Imagine standing outside on a sunny day: even when your eyes are closed, you can still feel the beaming sunlight through your eyelids. Feeling the warmth of the sun on your face may be one of the nicest feelings in the world—at least to anyone who likes the outdoors. But for those who don’t live in sunny climates (or just need a little extra sunshine), sun lamps might be the answer.
I’ve heard about the many potential benefits of sun lamps, and when I saw one for half-price online, I couldn’t resist. Sun lamps are also known as happy lamps, light therapy lamps, or SAD lamps, in reference to Seasonal Affective Disorder. These lamps are designed to mimic natural sunlight, and spending time in front of them is linked to a variety of mental and cognitive benefits.
Sun lamps work to combat seasonal depression during the winter months and have an overall mood-boosting effect year-round by mimicking natural light. Decreased sunlight exposure is shown to trigger symptoms of depression. According to Healthline, sun lamps not only battle seasonal depression, but can also be used to manage sleep disorders and dementia.
Research shows that sitting in front of bright artificial light for even 20–60 minutes each day can decrease symptoms of depression, especially when paired with other treatment methods like changes in diet, exercise, or medication. Light therapy can also help to manage sleep disorders and stabilize the circadian rhythm. Because the body orients its sleep-wake cycle based on hours of sunlight exposure, light therapy can help to balance this rhythm. Having a disrupted circadian rhythm can cause poor sleep quality, trouble concentrating, extreme fatigue, mood shifts, and poor performance in school or work.
Even if you don’t struggle with a serious sleep disorder, light therapy can help you to wake up and fall asleep more easily. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that 25% of Americans suffer from poor sleep health. This is a disturbingly high number, considering how important sleep is to our mental and physical health.
Research aside, I know from experience that sitting in the sunlight can have rejuvenating and calming effects. I decided to try a sun lamp to help me feel more motivated and grounded, especially in the mornings. I know that I am most productive in the early morning, before attending classes or going to work. Recently, however, it has been a challenge to get myself out of bed. After learning about the many potential benefits of light therapy, I wondered if this would help me to be more motivated and less anxious. The idea of extra sunlight also felt “right” to me, and it makes sense that a part of the natural world holds the key to so many aspects of our well-being. Of course, the lamp’s light is artificial, but the benefits sounded promising.
The first day with my lamp, I turned it on before hitting snooze on my alarm, hoping that the extra light would help me wake up gradually. It did, but I discovered something even more exciting. Within seconds of turning on the light, my cat sat down in front of it—effectively causing an eclipse and sending me back into a solid slumber.
After a back-and-forth battle with the snooze button, I got out of bed and left the light on for her to enjoy. At first, I thought she was trying to get warm, but the lamp was not giving off any heat. She was glued to the front of the lamp, which led me to do some digging. I learned that sun lamps can be effective for cats, too.
While feline friends do not require sunlight to survive, appropriate amounts of sunbathing can help them to relax and regulate body temperature. Most cat owners know that cats will curl up in even the smallest stray patch of sunlight coming in through the window, regardless of how flexible they must be to reach it. Additional sunlight exposure can improve cats’ moods, energy levels, and can even prevent seasonal hair loss. I watched my cat sitting by the lamp, her body carefully curled up into a perfect sphere. She loses her hair frequently, due to separation anxiety. I am hopeful that I’ve found something that might help her.
Although different from regular sun lamps, I also learned about something called red light therapy: a treatment method specifically for cats. Red light therapy is used to treat a wide variety of feline ailments, including wounds, arthritis, anxiety, and allergies.
I find it fascinating that light can be used to heal in so many ways. I had no idea that light therapy could help animals as well as humans, so I look forward to seeing the impact on my cat and myself.
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Photo: Cassidy Klingman