We develop an analytical approach to the dynamics of band populations of reverse saturable absorbers modeled by the three-level approximation of the five-level rate equations. We find high-accuracy approximate solutions to these rate equations, taking into account the temporal shape of the incident laser pulse for different regimes of excitation. The results obtained are confirmed by direct numerical integration of the rate equations and are verified by solution of the full system of the rate and the propagation equations. The validity ranges of the approximations are determined. We also prove that for input pulses that are much longer than the lifetime of the first excited state the ground-state depletion obeys the same functional dependence on the input fluence as in the case of rectangular input pulses. The dynamics of the excited states, however, explicitly depends on the pulse shape. We quantitatively estimate the effect of various parameters on the nonlinear absorption coefficient and discuss implementation of the approach by a beam propagation method to reduce the computational time.
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