Everything You Need to Know About Sunrise Alarm Clocks

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Everything You Need to Know About Sunrise Alarm Clocks

Over the past couple of decades, light therapy, wake-up lights, and sunrise alarm clocks have become more popular in Northern Europe. In more recent years, they made the trip across the Atlantic and are ready to help you welcome the day.

Light therapy, for the most part, is meant to lessen the effects of seasonal affective disorder and other mood or sleep disorders. The Mayo Clinic suggests that light therapy yields the best results if experienced within an hour of waking for 20–30 minutes. Sunrise alarm clocks, or wake-up lights, fold these recommendations into one by using the gradual increase of light to wake you.

Though you can get a sunrise alarm clock without a prescription, you should let your doctor know if you plan to start using one, especially if you have a mood/personality disorder.

Who benefits from sunrise alarm clocks?

"What might work for you might be uncomfortable for someone else."

Sunrise alarm clocks can usually help the average person have better wake-up experiences by gently lulling them out of deep sleep. If you have a lifestyle or health issues that affect your sleep habits, these devices can be especially beneficial.

If you live in a region or have a bedroom that doesn't get a lot of sunlight, sunrise alarm clocks can help you have a healthier circadian rhythm. People who sleep outside of standard nighttime hours or travel frequently can wake up more naturally, regardless of the hour. These light-based alarms are also an accessible alarm option for deaf people and people who are hard of hearing.

What features should you look for?

Not all sunrise alarms are created equally. What might work for you might be uncomfortable for someone else. Here are a few features to consider to get you waking up on the right side of the bed.

  • Type of light bulb: The majority of sunrise alarm clocks use LEDs, but a few use warmer halogen bulbs. The former keep the lights cooler to the touch, but some people might enjoy the sun-like warmth of the latter.
  • Light hue options: Any light color will wake you up, but some colors are better suited for the task. Ideally, you want your sunrise to start with a red or deep orange hue and then slowly transition to a yellow or even warm white hue. This range of colors offers the most realistic dawn simulation. Light therapy lamps tend to emit hyper-stimulating white or blue light (think about how your phone keeps you up at night). These cooler tones can be jarring to some and more effective to others in a wake-up light.
  • Sunrise duration: From our own tests and the reviews of others, we've found that 30 minutes is the sweet spot for the "sunrise" duration. If you think you might need more or less time, we recommend choosing a wake-up light that gives a few options.
  • "Any light color will wake you up, but some colors are better suited for the task."
  • Size: If you don't have any more room on your nightstand (or maybe you don't have a nightstand at all), product dimensions are your friend. Another option for people with limited space would be a smart LED bulb. Many of them have a sunrise alarm function and give you access to millions of colors.
  • Sleep aids: Half the battle of waking up is getting a good night's sleep in the first place. Some alarms offer a sunset feature that emits a red light that helps you produce melatonin. You could also consider alarms that feature white noise or soundscapes that fade out over time.
  • Sound alarm: As a failsafe, a classic alarm tone, nature sounds, white noise, FM radio, and/or the user's music can be programmed into the clock. You should note whether you can adjust the volume of these options and at what point they turn on during the sunrise simulation. Some gradually fade in from the start while others start once the light is at its peak brightness.
  • Internal memory: To our dismay, we couldn't find any sunrise alarm clocks or lights with a battery backup. The next best thing would be to remember the alarm settings. App-connected products often have you create account, so you can save your alarms to a cloud-based storage.
  • App connectivity: Common issues for sunrise alarm clocks are poorly designed buttons and complicated operating instructions. Using an app gives you more intuitive control over your wake-up light and, typically, the option to set alarms for different days of the week. Given the impact of phones' blue light on our ability to sleep, however, some users might not want to be too tethered to an app.
  • Light therapy: Alarm clocks that also work as light therapy boxes (usually can reach 10,000 lux while alarms hover around 250 lux) can be useful to people with SAD. The light's hue can impact user satisfaction. While a light blue tone can be an exciting alternative to warm yellow tones, it could prove to be overstimulating throughout the course of a day.

How did we choose our picks?

First, we dove into why these alarms are effective and what features embrace the (albeit limited) science behind light therapy. Through analyzing user reviews and the recommendations of various publications, we sifted out the cheap imitators and bad eggs from the pack. We compared the functionality of the best options and tested different sunrise alarm clocks to determine which models would be the best for your bedroom.

Ultimately, we wanted you to enjoy a reliable alarm, some customizable features, relatively easy to understand instructions, and great customer service. Most of these alarm clocks fall between $60 and $150, so we also valued comprehensive warranty and refund policies.