Can Dawn Simulation Help Depression?

Can Dawn Simulation Help Depression?
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Seasonal depression, also known as winter depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD, or Major Depression With a Seasonal Pattern, is a type of mood disorder which occurs primarily during the fall and winter months when people may be exposed to less sunlight during the day.

A lack of adequate light exposure can disrupt the body's circadian rhythms. Light enters through the eye (whether eyes are closed during sleep, or open), activating the pineal gland an, influencing the production of a hormone called melatonin.

Melatonin may in turn affect mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin, leading to depression, daytime fatigue, and food cravings. 

dawn simulator, basically a lamp with a rheostat which tries to mimic the gradual increase in light intensity that occurs at dawn, may relieve this type of depression by artificially lengthening the day, making your body believe it is a sunny summer day when dawn occurs at an earlier hour.

A dawn simulator is more convenient than a light box. You set a dawn simulator to come on at a specified amount of time prior to when you wish to wake up. Its light gradually intensifies; and, at the time you want to awaken, it should be at its peak intensity, causing melatonin production to shut off and waking you up. Treatment occurs while you are sleeping, so, it's almost like putting treatment on autopilot with a minimal amount of fuss on your part.  But, can it really help relieve depression?

Although dawn simulation has not been researched as much as light box therapy, which is considered to be the gold standard when it comes to treating seasonal depression, studies indicate that it may help many people, allowing them to wake up more easily and have better mood and energy.

According to the Center for Environmental Therapeutics, you will want to ensure that any dawn simulator that you buy meets the following specifications:

  • Both light level and timing are adjustable so you can change settings to suit your individual needs.
  • Color temperature is within the same range as natural light.
  • The specified distance that you need to be from the device to get a particular intensity of light should be practical for use.
  • The device is UL approved.
  • It filters out harmful UV radiation.
  • It has undergone testing for effectiveness.

Sources:

"Light Therapies for Depression."  PsychEducation.org.  James R. Phelps, M.D.  Updated:  October 2015.  Accessed:  November 23, 2015.

Rosenthal, Norman E.  Winter Blues:  Everything You Need to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Fourth Edition.  New York: Guilford Press, 2013.

Ulbricht, Catherine.  "Feeling SAD This Season?"  Psychology Today.  Sussex Publishers, LLC.  Published:  January 10, 2012.  Accessed:  November 23, 2015.

"What to Look for in Dawn Simulators:  A Buying Guide."  Center for Environmental Therapeautics.  Center for Environmental Therapeautics.  Accessed:  November 23, 2015.

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