It's that time of year again for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the days are quickly getting shorter now and for many that means symptoms of fatigue, lethargy, depression and more. As a result, it can require the willpower of a polar explorer just to drag oneself out of bed in the morning!
One solution to combat these symptoms is the use of a dawn simulator. These are essentially alarm clocks that instead of waking you abruptly with loud and irritating beeping (that makes you want to smash the thing!), produce light that gradually increases in intensity to mimic the rising sun. Many models use full spectrum light which is closest in appearance to sunlight as well.
By working in this way you can set your dawn simulator alarm for any time in the morning when it's still dark outside and be woken in a way that is more natural to the body. It is morning light that suppresses the production of the sleep hormone melatonin and switches production to the related chemical serotonin which is mood enhancing and helps to get us going in the morning. The daily cycle of melatonin and serotonin production is part of the circadian rhythm which regulates bodily functions over a 24-hour period. Disruptions in this cycle and excessive daytime production of melatonin have been implicated in seasonal affectice disorder (SAD). The use of a dawn simulator may help to maintain healthy circadian rhythms through the winter and ward off the symptoms of SAD and its milder form, popularly referred to as the "winter blues".
The treatment of choice for SAD is bright light therapy using powerful light boxes with a rating of 10,000 lux (lux being a measure of light intensity). Many studies have been conducted proving that this approach is effective for many patients. However, it can be difficult for some people who don't have time in the morning to sit in front of a light box for 30 minutes or more and may be a bit awkward in the office if you were to set one up on your desk - although your coworkers may also benefit!
Research into dawn simulators has been less extensive but the studies that have been done have often been favourable. One study even found them to be more effective than bright light therapy (although this result would have to be questioned), while another that tested a range of interventions found dwn simulators the second ost effective behind bright light therapy using 10,000 lux light boxes.
The upshot however seems to be that dawn simulators can be a very useful tool to help those adversely affected by lack of light get through the winter months. I have used one myself for a few years and it definitely helps, along with othert measures (I have severe SAD).
Dawn simulators are becoming more and more popular and are therefore now widely available and very affordable. If you search online you will find plenty of retailers offering these useful devices but to help you out here are a few useful links:
- Lumie (Europe)
- Healthy House (UK)
- TrueSun.com (US)
I will be adding a number of different dawn simulator models to the light therapy category of the site review section very shortly.
If you struggle with SAD or the winter blues you will be relieved to know there are a number of other effective treatment options available including high dose vitamin D therapy, negative air ionization, and the use of mood enhancing nutrients such as 5-HTP and herbs including St. John's Wort. Learn more on our SAD Treatment page.
About: Matthew Hogg ("Maff")
Diagnosed with M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome aged only 11 years old and subsequently associated illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Despite his own struggles he has constantly sought to educate and support others suffering from such "invisible illnesses" through his website, The Environmental Illness Resource. He fully recovered from MCS using his own approach and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutritional Health.