Dawn Simulators and Sunrise Clocks... Do they really work?

Yes... to an extent.

I've noticed two types of people who are interested in dawn simulators: people with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression caused by decreased light levels in the winter) and people who just have a hard time getting up in the morning.

For SAD, you will benefit more from a true light therapy lamp, rather than a dawn simulator. Light therapy lamps are specially designed to give you the correct intensity, brightness, and wavelength of light that your brain needs. Most dawn simulators do NOT do this; they use a normal, everyday lamp. (The exception is the BlueMax Sunrise System, which would be a good choice if you need both a lightbox and an alarm clock that lights up in the morning.)

For people who just have trouble getting up in the morning, dawn simulators do work, and can be practically life-changing, with certain caveats.

- If you are chronically sleep-deprived, you will still have trouble waking up.
Think of it this way, if you only got 3 hours of sleep, how likely would you be to wake up if the sun came streaming through your window? Most of us can actually sleep through light, if we're tired enough. For these cases, a back-up audio alarm (often included in dawn simulators) is absolutely necessary to be sure you wake up. (The best long term solution, of course, is to work on getting adequate sleep, so that you avoid chronic sleep deprivation.)

- The position of the lamp matters.
For your dawn simulator to be effective, it should be located near your face. The closer the light is to your face, the brighter it will appear, and the easier it will be to wake up. Positioning your lamp on the far side of the room, or towards the back of your head, will dramatically reduce its effectiveness.

- Sleep in multiples of 90 minutes (1.5 hours).
When we sleep, we gradually drift into deeper and deeper sleep, and then drift back to a lighter sleep state. It takes about 90 minutes to go through the entire cycle, and return to a light sleep state. Trying to wake up from the deepest sleep states is difficult - you'll feel groggy and half unconscious. Waking up from a light sleep state is much easier; it takes less to wake you up, and you'll feel pretty good and well-rested. To get the most from your dawn simulator... plan to sleep in 90 minute increments. Set your alarm for 4.5 hours, 6 hours, 7.5 hours, or 9 hours after you go to bed... and you should wake up easily, and feeling better.