Sunrise System Natural Dawn Simulator LED Alarm Review

Sunrise System Natural Dawn Simulator LED Alarm Review

Gregory Han
Mar 2, 2011

Today we continue our blogger tryout posts with an extremely detailed product review from candidate #3, Alain Latour. Tell us what you think below!

Product: Sunrise System Natural Dawn Simulator LED Alarm
Price: $177.00
Rating: Strong Recommend

Do you get glum, groggy, and grumpy in the short winter days? Do you struggle to get up, especially when it's still dark outside? If you answered "yes" to the first question, no need to suffer any longer...there are solutions out there by way of seasonal light boxes, devices proven to help winter seasonal affective disorder sufferers. There's no reason to wake up feeling like you want to go into hibernation mode.

All joking aside, what if you answered yes to the second question? Worst of all, what if you answered yes to both questions? Enter the Sunrise System SRS320 Natural Dawn Simulator Alarm Clock Light Box.

There are, like we already said, light boxes, and then there are dawn simulators. The former work by shining up to 10,000 Lux worth of a very bright, sun-like light straight into your soul. (Or at least that's what it feels like.)

The latter works by gradually turning on a built-in lightbulb at the time you set it to. They can be configured to take up to 30 minutes for the light to turn on to its maximum brightness. They have also been known to fool roosters into crowing even though it was still dark outside. Seriously.

Two features separate light boxes from dawn simulators. First, and most obviously, the alarm function: whereas light boxes have to be turned on manually, dawn simulators are set to turn on at a specific time, much like a regular alarm clock. Indeed, most dawn simulators can also trigger off a melody or a buzzer once the light has reached its maximum brightness.

The second difference lies in the light brightness that either type of gadget can emit. Dawn simulators are often limited to 3,000 Lux. That's bright enough to wake someone up, but too weak to alleviate winter blues. This is why light boxes emit at least 10,000 Lux. Because of these two differences, people who wanted both a dawn simulator function and a light box had to buy two separate devices.

But manufacturers soon caught on. One of the first was Sunrise Systems, longtime maker of different light boxes and dawn simulators. With the Sunrise System Light Box SRS320, the company set about combining a bright light LED light box with a dawn simulator into a portable, cheap, feature-packed package.

Design: Made out of gray plastic, the Sunrise System Light Box is indeed light (around 1.8 pounds) as well as small (3.74 x 4.92 x 10.43 inches). A LED panel covers most of the front; below the panel there are six buttons and a small display. The button functions are, clockwise from the upper right: plus, minus, snooze, menu, timer, and alarm. On the back of the SRS320 there is a handle to lift the device. The power cord also plugs into the back, with no buttons on either side.

Usage: We used the SR320 to wake up every morning for the last month. We also used it as light box once a day, turning the brightness on all the way and exposing ourselves to its light for around 20 to 30 minutes.

To use it as a light box, we initially placed the SR320 on our desk at around 4 p.m. Exposing yourself to sunlight too late into the day can make it harder to fall asleep. Even if it's fake sunlight. We did notice a boost in energy levels, even from the first day, but the light was too bright to comfortably work with a computer display. So, on the third day, we placed the light box on the breakfast table, finding that the light wasn't uncomfortable now that we didn't have to strain to look at a monitor at the same time.

To use it as a a sunrise simulator, the instructions state you have to set the alarm time before choosing the desired "sunrise" period from the menu. Say that you configured the device so that the light turns on 15 minutes before the alarm (it could also be 30, 45, 60, 75 or 90 minutes.) If you have to wake up at 6:30, you set the alarm for precisely that time. The SR320's light will turn on, dimly at first, at 6:15, gradually increasing its brightness until it shines to its full chosen brightness level at 6:30.

The SR320 also offers a buzzer alarm, but we've long baffled at people who prefer to be waken up with an audible jolt. Thankfully, the device allows you to turn the buzzer off, which we did, preferring to wake up to our iPhone alarm—a version of "Ocean and Streams" by The Black Keys.

We feared the light would wake us up before the alarm went off, but the light increases in brightness very gradually, even if set to do so in a 15-minute period. When the alarm had finally started, we woke up to a bright room and a light that happily reminded us of the sun shining straight into our faces. It didn't fully eliminate our morning sluggishness, but it did make it easier to wake up and get off the bed.

Incidentally, the SR320 also has a sunset feature that does the opposite of the sunrise feature, that is, it gradually turns the light off. The idea, according to Sunrise Systems, is help you relax and ease into what it calls "a restful and natural sleep." We didn't see much use to this feature.

About the snooze function. When the SRS320 is in the normal mode (that is, with the alarm off), the snooze button gently switches the light either on or off. But during a sunrise simulation, it will act as a light snoozer if you will, switching the light off so that the sunrise time will then start again for the remaining sunrise period.
This means that if the sunrise time is set for 30 minutes and you press the snooze button after only 5 minutes, the light will switch off and then gradually increase brightness over the remaining 25 minutes.

Also (and we're quoting from the manufacturer's instructions) "if the SRS 320 is in ALARM mode, the alarm is sounding and the light is on, the zZ SNOOZE button activates the SNOOZE mode. When the ALARM sounds and the light is at full brightness press the zZ SNOOZE button momentarily and the buzzer will stop.The light will go off. After 9 minutes the buzzer will sound again.To exit zZ SNOOZE mode simply press the ALARM button and SNOOZE mode will be de-activated."

You can guess we never quite figured it out, especially not at 6:30 a.m. when our cognitive skills are not at their sharpest.

The Bottom Line (& Who Should Buy):
For a reasonable price, the Sunrise System Light Box (SRS320) works fairly well as a light box and a dawn simulator. Both types of devices help make winter a more bearable thing, helping you get off to a better start, increasing your energy and improving your mood throughout your day.


  • Obviously, the fact that you can use the same device as a light box and a sunrise simulator.
  • The price. Many competing devices cost around the same, and sometimes more, yet only accomplish one of the two features.
  • The backlight can be set to different brightness levels, or it can be set to off, or set so that if illuminates for 5 seconds at any button press and then goes off again. Very useful for those of us who hate having a light on while we sleep.
  • The SR320 features a security feature that randomly turns the light full on and off between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. This is meant to make potential thieves believe you're home when you're away from home. Not wanting to waste the LED panel, we chose not use this feature. Plus we're in Canada—thieves are probably suffering from SAD themselves, so we've yet to hear from a break in our area.
  • The fact that you can set different alarm for each day of the week.
  • The handle on the back makes it easier to carry the SR320 from one room to another.


  • The LED panel would work better if the sides of the devices were made of a clear material, allowing for better light diffusion.
  • The manufacturers' instructions do not provide any indications on how to minimize glare. (This can be achieved by projecting the light downward toward the eyes at an angle.)
  • Snoozer function. We doubt it could be any more complicated.
  • Menu and the setup process are poorly designed. It takes far too many steps to accomplish anything.
  • LED panel can't be replaced—once it's burned out, you have to buy a whole new unit.

Our Ratings:
Strong Recommend*
Weak Recommend
Don't Recommend

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This product was purchased by the reviewer.

Post and photos by Alain Latour

Apartment Therapy supports our readers with carefully chosen product recommendations to improve life at home. You support us through our independently chosen links, many of which earn us a commission.
moving--truck moving--dates moving--dolly moving--house moving--cal Created with Sketch. moving--apt