A User's Guide To Sunset Projector Lamps + How To Use Them To Support Sleep
Raise your hand if you've ever whipped out your phone to capture that rich orange of the sunset as it hit your wall just right. Sunset projector lamps deliver that photo-worthy glow at any time of day, so it's no wonder they've become super popular recently. Beyond pure aesthetics, some users also note that the sun-mimicking lights help them combat the winter blues.
Curious to try one for yourself? Here's where to find them, how to set them up, and how sleep and circadian researchers recommend using them for a sunnier disposition.
What is a sunset lamp?
Sun projector lamps are typically small tabletop lights that have colorful LED bulbs inside. When you flip the switch, they cast a yellow-orange circle of light onto nearby surfaces. Their circular head is adjustable; you can face it at a wall, up onto a ceiling, or down at the floor.
Scroll through TikTok or Instagram and you'll get a sense of all the ways you can use these colorful lights—from setting a funky tone for photoshoots to replacing standard mood lighting. In addition to sunset tones, some lamps can also be programmed to display different color schemes.
How they work.
Once you're ready to use your lamp, simply plug it into a power source and face it at the surface of your choice. Users note that its hues tend to show up best in dark rooms, so you'll want to turn off any other lights first. Moving the light closer to the wall will make its colorful circle smaller and more vibrant; moving it farther away makes it larger and more diffuse.
Why you may want to try one.
While there's no right or wrong time to use these lamps, many opt to turn them on for a quick mood boost on winter nights when they aren't able to go outside to watch a real sunset. Director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona and Casper sleep adviser Michael Grandner, Ph.D., adds that turning them on at nightfall may also help prime your body for good sleep.
This is due to the way that light helps train our all-important circadian rhythms. To keep these internal clocks running smoothly, we should surround ourselves with bright light in the morning and darkness at night, as we would in nature.
"In the natural world, the light gets dimmer and redder at the end of the day. This actually sends biological signals that get interpreted by the brain and may help a person prepare for sleep," Grandner tells mbg. "So simulating that experience can possibly help people wind down and be ready to sleep at the right time."
Jamie Zeitzer, Ph.D., an associate professor of sleep medicine at Stanford University, agrees that lamps like these may be helpful for sleep in some contexts. He adds, however, that sunset is far from the most important time of the day from a circadian perspective.
"Morning light is more of the anchoring light in terms of keeping your circadian system aligned," Zeitzer says, so ultimately the best thing you can do to train your rhythm is get outside (or at least look out a bright window) first thing in the morning.
How to use it for sleep and mood benefits.
If you're looking to use a sunset projector lamp to support your internal clock, you'll want to turn it on around when the sun outside is actually setting, to simulate the colors you'd see out in nature. "A gradual fading of light might also help as well, to simulate dusk," Grandner explains.
While Zeitzer notes that a sunset projector lamp alone probably won't have too big of an impact on your sleep body clock, if it reminds you to dim the rest of your lights and begin the wind-down process, it will be a health investment well spent.
Grandner adds that if your lamp comes with multiple color options, you can switch to its bright white-, blue-, or green-enriched hues in the morning, "since they send a 'daytime' signal to your brain. That signal, when received early in the day, can help wake you up, increase daytime energy, and even improve mood during the day."
Where to buy.
While your local hardware store probably doesn't carry them, sunset projector lamps can be easily ordered online. Here are a few well-rated options to look into:
1. LEFUYAN Sunset Projection Led Light
This basic sunset light casts only one color (choose between sunset yellow, red, and red-white), but it's affordable and easy to use. Just plop the small light on a desk or chair and get projecting. While it isn't the highest quality product, it's a good starter option for anyone looking to get their first feel of faux sunset light.
LEFUYAN Sunset Projection Led Light ($10.99)
2. Nellsi Sunset Lamp Projection
A step up from the LEFUYAN, this light can be adjusted to project 16 different colors. It sits on an adjustable stand, so it can project light in any direction. Users also appreciate that it has three brightness options (helpful if you're using it to wind down at night) and is super lightweight and easy to maneuver. If it's a photoshoot light you're looking for, this seems to be a perfect pick.
Nellsi Sunset Lamp Projection ($17.99)
3. Govee Smart LED RGBWW Table Lamp
This one's more of an everyday light fixture that also features some of the fun color elements of a sunset lamp. The sleek LED light that pairs to an app on your phone can be programmed to emit virtually any color you can think of. It also has smart features that allow it to synch light with your favorite music or switch tones at certain times of day. Users do note that it's not super bright, so don't expect it to replace any task lighting.
Govee Smart LED RGBWW Table Lamp ($69.99)
4. Nordic Peace Golden Hour Sunset Lamp
This light comes with four color films that you can swap in and out manually. It gets rave reviews for its rich red and orange shades and sturdy build, and as a nice little added bonus, 1% of proceeds from each lamp go toward tree plantings in the U.S. and Canada.
Nordic Peace Golden Hour Sunset Lamp ($29)
The bottom line.
Sunset projector lamps are nifty little devices that can fill your home with a sun-kissed color at any time of day. Sleep experts note that they may be helpful for keeping your circadian rhythm in check, but don't expect them to have much effect on your sleep or energy levels. If it's a snooze product that you're in the market for, these science-backed options are probably better picks.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.