This is part two of ‘How can I manage SAD symptoms’. Part one covered the main kind of light therapy that is recommended for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Winter Blues – bright light therapy, which is delivered by a SAD light.
This second part is about another type of light therapy – dawn simulators. I’ve also discussed making the decision to invest in light therapy here. In part three, I’ll talk about medication and talking therapies. Then in part four, we’ll take a look at some other management strategies that I hope you’ll find helpful.
These aren’t the best photos (I’m sure Lumie will want to sue me for these!), but this is my faithful old dawn simulator, which I’ve had for seven years and counting!
I use it every day, even in summer because it’s still lovely as a bedside reading light and an alarm clock.
As you can see, a dawn simulator’s purpose is to prepare your body for waking up by gradually raising the light level in your room. The artificial sunrise provides a cue for your body to reduce production of the sleep hormone melatonin and to start gradually increasing the production of cortisol, which gives you some ‘get-up-and-go’. You might find my earlier post, ‘Why do we suffer from SAD?’ and Lumie’s page on dawn simulators interesting too.
Dawn simulators don’t reach the same light intensity as a SAD light, so although they’re great for helping you to wake up in a more natural way, they won’t treat all of your SAD symptoms.
I’m not going to tell you that I leap out of bed in the depths of winter à la Mary Poppins. What I will say, is that it is a really lovely way to wake up, feeling like you’re ready to be awake. I recommend dawn simulators to absolutely everyone, regardless of whether they suffer from SAD or not.
I honestly couldn’t go back to a traditional alarm clock now. Being shocked out of sleep in the pitch black by a wailing alarm, feeling disgruntled and stressed, before I’ve even started the day – no thanks!
I have a basic model, with fixed duration sunrise, sunset and alarm features. For the sunrise, you simply set your alarm for the time you want to get up. So if you set the alarm for 6.30am, it will come on very dimly at 6.00am, and then gradually brighten over 30 minutes. There’s a back-up beeper for peace of mind, but I usually wake a moment before it goes off. When it does, it’s not a shock because my body’s already awake – if that makes sense? The sunset is nice too, allowing me to wind down and the room to gradually darken as I drop off to sleep. Zzzzzz
More expensive models allow you to vary the sunrise/sunset duration, may have radio, soothing sounds, snooze and security facilities, etc. It just depends what you want and what your budget is. Lumie’s basic model is around £60. There are other manufacturers, but Lumie are the original specialists in light therapy, and the manufacturers of my product, so I can only recommend them.
Investing in light therapy
I appreciate that paying around £100 for a SAD light and another £60 for a dawn simulator seems like a lot. Personally, I would pay many times this, for the huge difference that light therapy has made to my quality of life in autumn and winter – and in fact, this summer! I was curious what this worked out at per day, so I’ve done some very rough calculations:
At £170 in total, my big lamp, plus my LED light, have cost me about £0.10 per day. This is based on using them daily for six months over nine years.
At £60 for my dawn simulator, used every day for eight years, I’ve paid about £0.02 per day!
One of the main concerns when deciding whether to buy a SAD light or dawn simulator is whether they’ll work for you. If you don’t want to buy outright, you can hire SAD lights and dawn simulators, from e.g. the SAD Shop. Or, you could buy a product direct from a manufacturer, who may give you a money-back guarantee. Lumie give you 30 days and Philips give you 28 days’ free home trial. Most people will notice their symptoms improve in around a week or two, so this would give you plenty of time to see if the products are helpful for you.
Given that light therapy is the first line of recommended treatment for SAD and Winter Blues, I really would encourage you to invest in at least a SAD light if you can. If light therapy works for you, you’ll be amazed by the difference it makes to your quality of life.
And if you find light therapy doesn’t work for you? Well then, firstly you have my sympathies. But there are other treatments you can try, such as medication and talking therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) - look out for more on these in part three.
What’s your experience with light therapy? Have you tried a dawn simulator? Have you any tips and tricks of your own to share?
Mary Poppins: http://www.thefancarpet.com/uploaded_assets/images/gallery/919/Mary_Poppins_10976_Medium.jpg
Coins in hand: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1269975