Greetings and welcome to Wake to Light: the place for all the best dawn simulator information, articles, tips, tricks, and reviews! My name is Spencer and I am an early riser, like you. I also suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and my body is terribly sensitive to cycles of light.
When the sun goes down, my melatonin levels surge, and I struggle to stay awake. In the morning, I wake at the first sign of daylight (or sleep through my alarm if it’s cloudy outside!). The change in seasons (and thus, the length of daylight hours) makes it hard to stay on a consistent schedule throughout the year. It’s my body doing exactly what it was designed to do, following the ebb and flow of its circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment. They are found in most living things, including animals, plants and many tiny microbes. The study of circadian rhythms is called chronobiology.1
Luckily for us, we now have the technology to “trick” our bodies with light from dawn simulators (also called wake up lights or sunrise clocks) to wake up naturally with slowly increasing levels of light (and on some models, fall asleep naturally with decreasing levels at bedtime) and also to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (or Winter Depression) through light therapy.
How to Choose the Best Dawn Simulator
Dawn simulators have been around since the late 1800’s, believe it or not (back then it was called “mechanical sunrise”)! Over the years, as technology increased, more and more dawn simulators have been created to more closely mimic nature, with the added benefit of new features and improvements. There are several important factors to consider, but don’t worry — I will break it down for you!
Light intensity is measured in lux (lx), which is equivalent to lumens per square meter (lm/m2). A high lux level indicates an intense concentration of light. The lux value that reaches our eyes is perhaps the most important indicator of the efficacy of a light source in affecting our wake response and in the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder/Winter Depression. Research indicates that light intensity around 10,000 lux (for 30 minutes, post-awkening) is the optimum level for SAD treatment, which is on the lower end of indirect sunlight (what you might expect to be coming through your bedroom window at dawn). For dawn simulation, much lower levels have shown to be effective, in the range of 250-300 lux (which is applied gradually over 30 minutes or more), and even lower levels for dusk simulation.
A Note on Distance
Manufacturers don’t always state at what distance the rated lux applies. If a light source is providing 10,000 lux at only six inches, it will not be as effective since it’s likely placed on your bedside table two or three feet away from your face, so be sure to ask if this distance information is not provided.
Color temperature is measured in Kelvins (K), which is a thermodynamic temperature scale. Without getting too technical, we’re only talking about the expected color of an object having a certain surface temperature — reddish yellow indicates a low color temperature, while blueish-white is a high color temperature. In regards to dawn simulation, what we’re interested in is the approximate color temperature of the Sun, which around 5600K. It’s not a hard and fast rule that your dawn simulator have this color temperature, and in fact, a wide range of color temperatures have been shown to be effective, so it really comes down to personal preference. Typically, we want to stay in the warmer colors 5600K and below. My dawn simulator has a color temperature of around 2700K.
My Reviews and Top Picks
- Best Overall Dawn Simulator: Philips HF3520 Wake-Up Light
- Best Budget Dawn Simulator: Philips HF3500 Wake Up Light
- Best DIY Dawn Simulator: Lighten Up! Model 308 Sunrise Simulator
What Makes a Good Dawn Simulator
Some other factors to consider when choosing a light therapy or dawn simulator appliance are its features, manufacturer support, and maintenance costs.
UL approved? • Does it filter UV rays? • Independently tested? • Warranty or Guarantee? • Price? • Replacement bulbs, accessories, and energy cost?
Top Dawn Simulators
Also known as SAD lights, light therapy lamps are used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD lights and dawn simulators overlap somewhat in that they can both be used to effectively treat winter depression symptoms through early morning exposure to light. If you suffer from SAD, but don’t want to enlist use of a dawn simulator for waking up (as one of my friends puts it, “I don’t do lights in the morning — I’d smash something”), using a SAD light after you wake can provide the same alleviation of your winter depression symptoms, but does involve sitting under the lamp for half an hour or so, whereas with a dawn simulator, you’re actually getting the bulk of your treatment while you’re still asleep!
(more to come soon)
Best Light Therapy Lamp
More About Dawn Simulators
I hope this has been a useful overview of dawn simulators and light therapy lamps. Be sure to check out my Ratings and Reviews of specific models, and for more details, useful information, and related content, take a look at the Articles section. And of course, if you have any questions, feel free to email me from the Contact page.