Light therapy is about resetting the body’s circadian rhythms. It works to trigger its responses to sunlight when there simply isn’t enough natural sunlight to trigger them normally. One way to trigger these responses in a natural manner is to use a dawn simulator. This is a device that works much like an alarm clock. The simulator is set to a specific time. When that time arrives it triggers a light that slowly grows in its intensity and mimics the sunrise. Our eyes respond to light even when we ourselves are asleep and so our brain registers and begins to respond to the false dawn as if it were real. This helps to shut down the body’s melatonin production in anticipation of the need to be awake and alert now that it is day.
Some dawn simulators also work in reverse and can be set to mimic a sunset. This is useful for further fine-tuning light therapy and for treating sleep disorders or even jet lag. Specific individuals respond to light therapy best at specific times of day and a sunset simulator may be more helpful to some than morning therapy. Used with a traditional light box, a dawn simulator is a strong aid to the treatment of SAD as well. Because light therapy is about mimicking natural light, the dawn simulator is an excellent extension to it.