Dawn simulation: review of the Sunrise System SRS100

The Sunrise System SRS100 is the second dawn simulator that I tried, after I found the Lumie Bodyclock to be too limited.  I like being able to choose exactly what sort of light I have by my bed and where it is positioned, and using a plug-in dawn simulator allowed me to do exactly that.  In fact, it even allowed me to take my partner’s light preferences into consideration.  If you use a multiway plug, you can hook up as many lamps as you like, provided that the total wattage does not exceed 300W (Europe model) or 200W (USA model).  You could light up the entire room on that, if you wished.  It needs to be straightforward lamp that does not include a dimmer function already (so touch lamps are out), and you have to use the right kind of bulb (standard incandescent and dimmable energy-saving halogen are fine; fluorescent, LED, or ordinary halogen won’t do), but apart from that, any lamp will do.  If you want to put in a “special daylight bulb”, which used to mean a “neodymium” incandescent bulb with a lavender coating but now means a dimmable halogen (both are meant to produce a whiter light, tbut he dimmable halogen does a better job and is a lot easier and cheaper to find, not to mention energy-saving), then you can.  I’d suggest using the energy-saving dimmable halogen, not just for those reasons but also because with the best will in the world, dawn simulators are prone to buzzing when standard incandescents are used, and they don’t do this at all with dimmable halogen.

From reading a large number of dawn simulator reviews, while a small number of people are choosy about the exact colour of the light they wake up to, far more are concerned with the brightness.  Reviewers of all-in-one models frequently complain that the light is not bright enough to wake them up (or read by), and very occasionally complain that it’s too bright for them.  The ability to select exactly how long the dawn simulation takes appears to be another key issue.  Nor does this type of dawn simulator ever cause problems with not liking the appearance of the lamp (several brands are frequently slated as producing ugly, cheap-looking lamps), or having to replace the entire unit when the built-in bulb dies (this problem appears to occur only with the Philips Wake-Up Light).  This unit is not going to win any art awards (I’ve yet to see any type of light therapy device which will), but it’s fairly standard-looking for this sort of gadget and is reasonably small and neat at 11.5 x 13 x 7.5 (base)/3 (top) cm.  The picture above is showing it next to a fairly small lamp.

Being able to choose exactly what sort of light you use, where you position it and how long it takes to come on, is a joy, especially if you have a partner and the two of you have slightly different tastes in this department.  I’m perfectly happy to be woken by a fairly strong light after half an hour, but my partner finds it much too bright when he’s still at that stage of waking up.  After some experimentation, we put a stronger bulb on my side of the bed than on his, and set the dawn simulation to take an hour so that we’re getting up while the light is still softer and don’t have to face bright light until we’re more awake.

Dawn simulation is originally intended to be used while asleep, but we’ve somehow ended up using it while we’re dozing and then getting up, as my partner prefers to have several sound alarms starting at the same time that the dawn simulation starts.  It still works: we wake up feeling more refreshed and we find it easier to wake up at the same time every day.  We both find that about fifteen or so minutes into it, we’re not at all keen on this whole morning idea and may even try to hide under the quilt if we’re awake enough, but by the time the light is fully on, we’re up and doing.  I’ve also used dawn simulation in the conventional fashion in the past, when it would feel as if I simply blinked and was peacefully awake, rather than being dragged painfully into consciousness by an alarm clock.

In the new model (more on this below), Morning Sunrise have put in a couple of features which I wasn’t sure about at first but now rather like.  The first is that when you simply turn the lamp on or off, it fades up/down over two seconds instead of coming on instantly.  This took me a while to get used to, but it can be soothing, and it’s mostly useful for when you want to turn the lamp off and then get out of the bedroom without tripping over in the dark.  The other feature is that if you let the dawn simulator come on and don’t do anything to it (I think this only applies when the sound alarm is off, otherwise you have to press a button), the light will stay on for an additional hour, turn off, and the dawn simulator will automatically come on the next day.  This is handy for people who may forget to turn their dawn simulator on every day, and also people who dash out of the house in the morning and can’t remember whether they turned the light off or not.  I presume the hour is to give you time to shower, dress, breakfast and so forth.  I’m often still in my bedroom after that hour, so I just turn the lamp on again using the snooze button.  I’ve also just been reminded that the extra hour is useful as a back-up if you’re not properly woken by the dawn simulation, for example if you snooze for a while after awakening.

This lamp also has a number of other features which I don’t use but other people may find useful.  There’s an optional nightlight which is adjustable, so that you can set it to come on as brightly as you please.  Obviously I’m not keen on nightlights that have any blue light in them as they will suppress melatonin production, but incandescent and dimmable halogen bulbs produce very yellow light when they’re that dim and there won’t be much blue in there, so most people will be happy with this.  (It’s certainly better than some of the nightlights you can buy which produce bluish white light, the last thing they should do.)  There’s a “security” setting that will put the lamp on at random intervals as a burglar-deterrent if you’re away.

The majority of these are features that you’re not going to get with an all-in-one dawn simulator, where you’re lucky if you can change the length of time the sunrise/sunset takes, and the cost of the Sunrise Syste, SRS100 is equivalent to the cheapest end of the all-in-ones, at least the decent models.  (There are a few cheap and nasty things out there, which can generally be spotted because they cost a tenner new on eBay and get diabolical reviews on Amazon.)  To compare to Lumie’s all-in-one range, you have to spend £99.95 with Lumie before you can vary the length of the sunrise/sunset (though they don’t offer 45  or 75 min) and £149.95 before you get seven-day alarm settings, and even then you may find that the lamp is too dim to read by.  On the other hand, the SRS100 doesn’t include sleep sounds, a radio or anything else like that.  Morning Sunrise offers more expensive models with those features if you want them, and come to that they also offer several fully-featured all-in-one models as well.

As with all dawn simulators, there’s an optional back-up sound if light isn’t enough to wake you reliably every single morning.  The sound it makes is absolutely horrible.  It beeps once, then twice, then three times, and I don’t think I’ve ever been able to stand it for longer than that.  Some people prefer to have a good strong sound, even if it’s vile, so that they can guarantee that it will get them up, but personally I’d rather set the alarm on my phone.

The people at Morning Sunrise have gone to quite a lot of trouble to make this dawn simulator customisable.  I originally bought mine several years ago, and eventually it started showing a couple of minor faults.  Morning Sunrise suggested that I send it in for repair at the cost of £15, and that they’d either repair it and upgrade the software, or replace it if it was beyond repair.  They ended up replacing it, and told me that the damage had been caused by a power surge, so I bought a surge protector for my new model.  (I definitely recomend getting a surge protector, they’re cheap and it seems that dawn simulators may be particularly vulnerable to power surges.)  This does mean that I can compare the older and the newer software, and I know that they’ve changed things because of customer requests.  I’ve found their customer service to be excellent.

The snag is that they’re trying to pack a lot into a fairly small unit with only five buttons.  I feel that it’s time that they redesigned the unit slightly to add a couple more buttons and to make the display light up in a sleep-friendly colour (red or amber) rather than the melatonin-suppressing green.  To give an example of how things have changed:

Old model: backlight options were full, dim, or full for a few seconds after pressing a button and then dim afterwards.  This meant that there was an annoying light by your bed at night.  Customers complained about this, so it changed to:

New model: backlight options are the above three plus completely off or full for a few seconds and then off.  I went for the last option, so I no longer have to drape a cardigan over the display at night, but on the other hand I can’t see the display unless there’s a strong light on, and have trouble even then.  I’m looking at it now and I can just about see the time, but I can’t see the date or the little row of symbols at the top that show whether the dawn simulator is on and so forth.

What they should try next: programming it to illuminate the display during the daytime only, either on a timer or by following when the light was on.  I’ve mentioned this to them and they made interested noises.

That is, of course, a very minor quibble.  Complaints are more often about how long it takes to programme the device.  I find it straightforward and intuitive to programme, unlike the GoLite, as you simply cycle through a very long menu.  This does, however, mean that if you just want to change one thing that’s at the end of the menu, it’ll take a while to get there.  Being able to have an individual setting for each day of the week is great, but if you want to change your sunrise times then you will have to go through seven settings to do so, there’s no way to do them all at once.  Shift work would be a nightmare.  When my partner was on holiday this week we decided to have a bit of a lie-in but still get up at a reasonable hour, and instead of resetting all the sunrise times I actually ended up just moving the clock by an hour instead.  I’d really love to see a “holiday” feature where you could simply set all your sunrises to come on an hour later than usual.  This isn’t something that exists in other dawn simulators to the best of my knowledge, I’m just getting greedy because the device has such capabilities already.

The main thing that bothers me, since setting the device is something you only have to do occasionally, is that there aren’t enough buttons and they all mean different things at different times.  The ZZZ button is the main way to turn the lamp on and off, but when the sunrise is in action it’s the snooze button and will turn the light down to dim for seven minutes before turning it back onto full, as opposed to simply turning it off.  I often have to press the buttons twice to get a response, for some reason.  If you want to adjust the intensity of the lamp when it’s not mimicking a sunrise or sunset, you press the + and – buttons.  However, if you just leave the dawn simulation to come on every day automatically without turning it off (a little clock will show on the display), pressing the + button when the lamp is on will begin the sunset.  I also had to ring Morning Sunrise to find out how to get the dawn simulation to come on automatically every day without accidentally disabling it when I turned the light on or off, as it wasn’t in the manual.  The device really needs a couple of extra buttons so that the dawn simulation is controlled completely separately from the main lamp.  There have been quite a few occasions when I accidentally started the dusk simulation or disabled the next day’s dawn simulation.

While I did have to spend a while relearning how to use this dawn simulator after I’d had it replaced, and grumble about a few details, in general I am very happy with it and trust that Morning Sunrise will continue to improve the product so that the snags are ironed out.  They appear to have noticed that green isn’t the best colour for a display judging from their more recent dawn simulators, for example, so hopefully the rest will follow.  Judging from the reviews I’ve read, product quality seems to be consistently good with this company.  This is their most basic model but it’s still feature-packed, and I understand that it’s an extremely popular dawn simulator worldwide.

Morning Sunrise have both UK and EU models, and will ship internationally.  At the moment, it’s cheapest to buy from the manufacturers rather than a reseller.  The same dawn simulators are sold in the US under the brand name BlueMax, although I still haven’t worked out which is the parent company.

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12 Comments on “Dawn simulation: review of the Sunrise System SRS100”


  1. Dawn simulation is basically a nice idea, but I can’t imagine how it would actually awaken anyone. Your partner apparently feels the same way, as he uses “several sound alarms” as well as the simulator. Me, too, plus clock-radio and spotlights on a timer. If I REALLY must be up early, I need someone to coax me awake on the ‘phone in addition to the above, or I just stay up all night.
    .
    My Sunrise System simulator is from the summer of 2005, and that would be the European version. Of the improvements you mention since then there is one I’d really appreciate: the light staying on after building up to full strength. I don’t see why they didn’t do that from the start; what sort of dawn turns off immediately it’s happened? When I open my eyes and the lamp is dark, I can’t know whether it hasn’t started yet or it’s already done.

    It’s nice you are doing these product reviews.


    • I’ve been thinking about how you might be able to fiddle with the dawn simulator to see if you can get better results. A lot of the negative reviews about these devices said that the light wasn’t strong enough, and you said that you have a 60W maximum. Try getting a 52W energy-saving dimmable halogen bulb, as it will work fine even in an older model (it’s now what the manufacturer recommends) and in brightness is allegedly equivalent to 75W, though I reckon it’s brighter than that. Alternatively, you could go for two lamps with 28W energy-saving halogen bulbs in them (40W equivalent, probably more like 50W). This reminds me, I have a brand new lux meter and keep meaning to test all these lamps to see how the brightness really compares. Set it up so that the bare bulb is facing you, rather than putting it under a lampshade, and that too will make a substantial difference in how much light you get (ooh, now I want to do Experiment 2: The Lampshade Effect). I think the spotlight versions of these bulbs, if you mean reflector screw-in spotlights, are 28W, so perhaps swap things round a bit. If you try this, please report back and tell us whether it made a difference!

      I’d be really curious to see what happens if blue light at 470nm was used for dawn simulation. Apart from a guy who rigged up his own version, I don’t know of any dawn simulator using blue LEDs, but Morning Sunrise do a combi dawn simulator/lightbox with white LEDs, which should have nearly as good an effect as blue on the circadian clock. Perhaps it would do a better job of getting the message through?


  2. Ah, I didn’t make myself clear. Dawn simulation does wake him up pretty well, the alarms are more or less back-up as he can’t take any chances with being late for work. He’s been using those exact three alarms for years, he’s trained himself to know how many minutes of dozing time he has left for each one, and he wouldn’t even change the songs. Also he doesn’t like to wake up to bright light, on his side of the bed it’s a 25W bulb in a spotlight that’s turned into the corner behind a vase, but I think it’s still having a good effect. I’d guess that he’s a moderate evening type rather than having full-blown DSPS.

    Before using dawn simulation, his alarms would start at 8 but he’d be getting up closer to 9, still very sleepy, and I think once or twice still managed to sleep through all three alarms and be late for work. I would be skulking in bed, woken up by his bustling about but trying to get back to sleep, and would most often doze fitfully after he left, as I was too tired to get up but had been woken up enough to have trouble getting back to sleep. I’d end up missing the lightbox about one day in three due to being sleepy and getting up very late, and I never started it as early as I do now. Now he gets more thoroughly woken up and gets up earlier. This morning he was in the shower by 8.20 and chirpy with it. I go through a phase of wanting to hide from the light and go back to sleep in the early stages of the dawn simulation, but by 8.30 or so I’m past that and starting to get up. I get up and stay up, I rarely miss the lightbox any more, and my energy seems to be peaking in the morning now, although I think some of that is due to the darkness therapy. On his days off, if the dawn simulator is off he will sleep until midday or even early afternoon (he builds up a sleep debt during the week), but if it’s on I’ll wander in (I’ll have been up since my usual wake-up time, my body clock seems to be thoroughly trained by now, so even when the dawn simulator is on later or skipped entirely, I don’t sleep in much if at all) and find that he’s awake by the time the light is about 2/3 up.

    I don’t know how many people find that dawn simulation fails to wake them up. I think you’re the first I’ve encountered, though I’ve run into a few who still needed a sound as back-up – which can still be a huge improvement for the truly alarm clock-resistant. Did you try fiddling with the timing and how strong the light was? From the discussions on Nite-Owl about timing bright light therapy, it seems that getting exactly the right point in your sleep cycle is crucial for DSPS people. The research on dawn simulation mostly seems to be about SAD, where it generally comes up as nearly as effective as bright light therapy. This does suggest that something is definitely going on, evolved responses to gradually increasing light and so on. I’m trying to research dawn simulation for waking up alone, and nothing has come up so far, although I am now growling at yet another article by a fluorescent lightbox manufacturer warning against the supposed dangers of LED lightboxes. Because, you know, it’s not as if fluorescent lightboxes contain even more of the harmful wavelengths than LED ones do, or are well-documented to cause a number of symptoms.

    I did find this article on dawn simulation for DSPS (which claimed a decent success rate), but the study was on teenagers, so I’m wondering whether they had true DSPS or just the late patterns which we now know are natural to teenagers. What I am finding interesting is that when I set the dawn simulation for an hour later for the past week, I ended up slightly phase-delayed for the first time in months. I don’t know how far this could have been caused by going to bed a bit later as well, but normally for the last few months (i.e. since beginning darkness therapy) I wouldn’t have been able to stay awake longer than usual to begin with. Now I seem to be shifting to a siesta pattern for the time being, so who knows. It could even just be the ME/CFIDS playing up.

    I’d forgotten that the previous models of the SRS100 turned off immediately once they were finished (actually, from Amazon reviews I think it was on for a whole two minutes). That’s daft. At least they listen to their customers and change things like that, eh. From what I’ve read, you’re experiencing an unusually poor response to dawn simulation, so I wonder why? Assuming that you weren’t just using a really dim lamp, I’m guessing that this has something to do with the DSPS. I’ve learned from the Nite-Owl list that I respond to light and darkness therapies a lot better than the other people currently posting on that list, which could of course be due to a variety of reasons but does suggest that at the least, there’s a group of hard-core DSPS types who just do not respond to light and dark signals in the way that they should.

    Something else interesting I noticed is that while dusk simulation with the bedside lamp is a bit pointless now that I have the orange glasses, and it was always hard to time it right anyway, if I use the “fade down gradually over an hour” setting on F-lux, it effectively causes a form of dusk simulation and to my surprise, I get sleepy even though it’s early for me. I think I may have trained myself to respond to gradually changing light levels. When I’d been using dawn simulation for a bit but hadn’t yet blacked out the window as much as I now have, I kept on being woken up pretty fast by even the tiny amount of dawn light coming around the edges of the blackout curtains. In the past, I could quite happily sleep through a full sunrise with only my beige curtains, no blackout blind and no blackout curtain linings. I think it’s like the way that darkness therapy frequently helps people sleep better even if they are capable of going to sleep in a fairly light room, I’ve noticed a lot of people reporting that.


    • I should mention that I’m judging the efficacy of dawn simulation partly from clinical trials, where if anything I suspect they’d err on the side of optimism, and internet reviews, where there will most likely be a negative bias. The good brands get complaints about things like build quality, peculiar features and so forth, but I can’t remember anyone saying that the dawn simulator was in working order but just didn’t wake them up at all. On the other hand, the cheap-and-nasty ones do get a lot of complaints that they are ineffective even when working properly. The key seems to be that the light comes on gradually in a smooth curve, rather than, say, hopping between four different brightnesses or jumping suddenly from 20% brightness to 100%, which apparently some of the other models do.

      Edit: I’m now going through the Amazon reviews of dawn simulators in general. There are a few people who just don’t get woken by them, and a few more who find they work partially, but so far 87% of reviews say that the light woke them up properly. About half the people who were not being (fully) woken thought it was because the dawn simulator they were using was not bright enough, and there are plenty of complaints about the light not staying on for long enough with various models (e.g. 15 min for the BioBrite). There are also people who complain that the dawn simulator does not work well because the room is already bright from sunlight, so those are user errors (I don’t know whether the manufacturers all make it clear that a dark room is essential, but you can rely on the fact that many people won’t read the instructions.) This comment backed up my theory that we can train ourselves to become more responsive to gradually changing light levels.


  3. Nice review you have here. Sunrise System has really contributed most of the best light therapy devices around.


  4. I haven’t seen the sunrise system that you are referring to, but I get my SAD and light therapy light bulbs at http://www.NorthernLightsUSA.com

    USE COUPON CODE BULBS10

  5. Tracey Harris Says:

    I am thinking of buying one of these after reading your review and knowing that I plummet downhill each year; I feel the change at the beginning of september. I note the review is 2 years old now and they do have newer products, would you still recommend the SRS100? Tracey


    • Sorry for being so late! I haven’t looked at the market for these in a while, but after looking at Sunrise System’s website, the SRS100 still seems to be the one to go for. I don’t know if anyone else has bought out a similar dawn simulator of this quality for a lower price since then.


  6. Hi! I could have sworn I’ve visited this blog before but after browsing through many of the articles I realized it’s new to me.
    Regardless, I’m certainly happy I came across it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back regularly!

  7. Tom Says:

    Hello! Can you say:
    Can i use it with dimmable energy saving bulbs?


    • If you mean fluorescents, then the answer is no. However, if it’s a dimmable halogen incandescent, the sort which are shaped like ordinary light bulbs on the outside and marked as halogen, then yes, and they actually work better than standard incandescents (which have a tendency to buzz). It’s a 30% energy saving compared to incandescents, so not as good as fluorescents or LEDs, but not bad, and the light’s a nice colour.


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