What to Look For When Buying a Dawn Simulator

When the sun goes down, the body’s melatonin levels increase and naturally, we struggle to stay awake. Changes in seasons can make it difficult for most of us to maintain a consistent sleeping and waking schedule throughout the year. This is the body's circadian rhythm—the mental, physical and behavioral changes that occur throughout a 24-hour cycle in response to changes in light and darkness.

Overview of biological circadian clock in humans.

Luckily, we have technology in the form of dawn simulators, which can mimic the sunrise and therefore allow the body to wake up naturally with gradually increasing levels of light. Through light therapy, dawn simulators have also been found to be effective in treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter depression.

When buying a dawn simulator, there are several factors to consider:

The Amount of Light You Need

According to empirical findings, 10,000 lux is the ideal level of light intensity one should be exposed to from a dawn simulator. Lux is basically a measure of the amount of light penetrating the eye. A higher lux means more light gets through the eye. Typically, the dawn simulators on the market emit a light intensity that is much lower than the optimal 10,000 lux to awaken the body. However, look out for a daylight simulator that gives you a wide berth to adjust the light according to your specific needs.

The Color Temperature

Natural sunlight has a distinct spectrum of colors. Although these colors change as the day progresses, the changes are not very drastic so the colors remain more or less in the same spectrum. The color temperature of dawn simulators typically ranges between 4000 and 6500K but for other simulators, the temperature can become immeasurably high.

When it comes to dawn simulators, what we’re looking for is the sun’s approximate color temperature, which is about 5600K. Your dawn simulator doesn’t have to be in this range; the appropriate color temperature will largely depend on your needs. Ideally, you want a daylight simulator in the warmer color range i.e. 5600K or a little lower.

The Distance of Light

Manufacturers are yet to specify the ideal distance that you can actually receive the recommended 10,000 lux light intensity. A good dawn simulator will allow you to receive adequate light when placed at least 12 inches away from your face. You want to place your dawn simulator where it allows you to naturally and gently awaken in the morning.

Budget considerations

The cost of dawn simulators varies widely depending on the additional features that come with it. Some of these variations in features include:

  • LED vs replaceable bulb:
    Modern daylight simulators use LED bulbs that typically last throughout the life of the simulator, which can be as long as 20 years! Other dawn simulators use replaceable fluorescent bulbs which have a much shorter life cycle.
  • Adjustable light levels:
    If light easily affects you, look out for a dawn simulator that allows you to control light levels as you fall asleep and as you wake up. Many devices come with a display whose brightness can be adjusted accordingly.
  • Backup battery:
    Preferably, you should select a light therapy mask that doesn’t require too much treatment time. Masks that take too long may not be the most effective.
    Unless you usually use a separate device to wake you up, you would need a backup battery to ensure your dawn simulator works reliably.

Other things to consider when selecting a dawn simulator include:

  1. Whether the device will be used as a bed-side lamp.
  2. Whether you have trouble falling asleep and waking up—some devices simulate both sunset and sunrise.
  3. Whether you need soothing sounds to wake up or fall asleep.​

Below, we’ve reviewed for you the top three dawn simulators.

Philips HF3500/60 Wake Up Light

philips wake up_light hf3500/60

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The Philips HF3500/60 dawn simulator is a no-frills, pocket-friendly device that gets the job done whether you want to use it for waking up or managing winter depression. Philips says their dawn simulators are the only ones backed by independent scientific research.

The main features of the Philips HF3500/60 include:Yellow light for sunrise simulationThe yellow light emitted by this dawn simulator increases gradually over the course of 30 minutes from a dull yellow to a bright yellow, allowing you to wake up gently and naturally. You can adjust the light across 10 brightness levels, all of which closely imitate sunrise.

Bedside LampThis device acts both as a dawn simulator and a bedside lamp so you can use it to read at night.

Gentle alarmThe Philips HF3500/60 comes with an alarm whose beeping sound increases gradually over a duration of one and a half minutes at the time you set it to wake you up. It also comes with a snooze button; the snooze mode is activated for about 9 minutes before reverting to the gentle alarm.

PROS

  • Gently wakes you up with sunrise simulation
  • 10 light settings to choose from
  • Closely mimics sunrise with its bright yellow light
  • Snooze and gentle alarm wakes you peacefully

CONS

  • Lacks sunset simulation
  • One wake up sound
  • Lamp is not replaceable
  • Lacks light color

If you are looking for a wallet-friendly dawn simulator, the Philips HF3500/60 Wake-Up Light is a good choice. This device does not come with the bells and whistles featured in other simulators but it works just fine for a variety of applications.

Philips HF3520 Wake-Up Light

philips wake up light hf3520

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The Philips HF3520 Wake-Up Light is a feature-packed dawn simulator and is Philip’s pioneer model. A really cool feature is the energy-saving LED lamp that can last up to 20 years!

The main features of this dawn simulator include:

Choice of natural sounds

If you like to wake up to soothing sounds, you will love the Philips HF3520. You have a choice of Zen garden, gentle piano, bird song, seaside sounds, birds in the forest, FM radio, or no sound. As the light from the simulator increases gradually, it is accompanied by gentle sounds at your desired wake up time. The sounds increase gradually over a period of 1.5 minutes.

Colored sunrise simulator

This device emits colored light to simulate sunrise, allowing you to wake up naturally and gently. There is a choice of 20 brightness levels that increase gradually over a period of 30 minutes ranging from dull reds, ambers, to a crisp yellow to mimic the sun.

Snooze button

In addition to the gentle alarm, this dawn simulator also comes with a snooze function that takes effect for about 9 minutes before playing the alarm sound again.

Automatic brightness display

The display on this device adjusts itself automatically in response to the surrounding light. This way, the time display remains readable even when the surrounding light is bright and adjusts accordingly to ensure the light from the display does not distract you at night.

PROS

  • Colored dawn simulation
  • Automatic adjustment of display light
  • Choice of gentle alarm sounds

CONS

  • Pricey
  • Small controls that are difficult to read

The Philips HF3520 Wake-Up Light is really good choice if you are looking for a dawn simulator with great features such as colored sunrise simulation and an array of alarm sounds to choose from. This device also serves as a bedside lamp, which is certainly an excellent addition.

Lighten Up! Model 308 Sunrise Simulator

philips wake up light hf3520

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Lighten Up! Model 308 Sunrise Simulator is ideal if you are looking to transform your bedside lamp into dawn simulator. This device is essentially a programmable wall timer that lets you use your existing lamp as a sunrise simulator.

Its key features include:

Ability to use existing lamp

With the Model 308, you can use the lamp you already have at your bedside. A word of caution though: you will need to use a dimmable LED or a halogen/incandescent bulb with your bedside lamp. The 308 Sunrise Simulator turns your bedside lamp on at a low light to mimic sunrise.

Weekly programmability

The Model 308 can be programmed for 7 days. There's a choice of different wake-up times, stay-on times as well as fade-times—this last option works specifically as the dawn simulation function.

Portable

You can carry this wall timer with you anywhere you go. If you are traveling, you can use the Model 308 with the bedside lamp in your hotel room. It is advisable to bring along a dimmable plastic LED just in case the fluorescent bulbs in the bedside lamp do not work with the Model.

PROS

  • User-friendly and affordable
  • Comes with backup battery
  • Programmable for each day

CONS

  • Own bedside lamp with dimmable bulb required
  • Programming is not straightforward

While you’d be able to make some savings with the LightenUp! Model 308 Sunrise Simulator, this device can be quite difficult to set up. However, once you set it up, it works seamlessly. If you travel frequently, this device could be a good a choice due to its portability.

Conclusion

As seasons change throughout the year, light therapy products, such as dawn simulators, can help you sleep and wake up naturally so you can maintain a consistent schedule.

In addition to budget considerations, when buying a dawn simulator, look out for specific features that will meet your needs. Other important factors to bear in mind are the amount of light you need, the color temperature, and the distance of light.

All in all, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to buying dawn simulators. Your unique needs will determine the most appropriate device for you.