DIY Dawn simulator
September 2, 2008 6:54 PM   Subscribe

Why are dawn simulator alarm clocks so expensive? What would I be missing if I made one myself?

I'm interested in dawn simulator alarm clocks - the kind that wake you up gradually with increasing light. I wake up easily in the summer when it is light out, but in the winter it's miserable getting out of bed in a dark room. However a lot of the ones I've looked at seem to be extremely expensive (including those linked to on this question). Is there something these clocks have that I would be missing if I simply attached a lamp with a full spectrum bulb to a timer? Are there timers (that don't cost an arm and a leg) that make lights gradually brighter? I don't need another alarm clock radio or aromatherapy or nature noises or any of those extras, but ideally the light would gradually increase until my room was daylight-level bright. Ideally I'd like to spend sub-30 dollars since this is an experiment that might not work, but I'd love to hear any testimonials that might convince me that its worth it.
posted by fermezporte to Technology (14 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I'd start by trying a cheapo compact flourescent bulb attached to a simple mains-power timer. We've got one bulb in our lounge that takes a good 10-15 minutes to warm up. Perhaps that could be a feature, rather than a bug...
posted by pompomtom at 7:03 PM on September 2, 2008

What's your definition of expensive? There's one for $50 at Hammacher Schlemmer.
posted by amro at 7:11 PM on September 2, 2008

Thats pretty expensive. I think you should totally DIY. You can work out something on a timer/dimmer switch, or even go as far as programming an adruino microcontroller to do this for you.
posted by saxamo at 7:16 PM on September 2, 2008

We went through a few of these until we settled on a cheap lamp connected to a plain vanilla lamp timer. We put a compact fluorescent bulb in there and put the lamp shining up from the floor in a corner so it wouldn't shine right in our eyes. It's not bright enough to wake us up immediately but it makes it significantly easier to wake up when the radio turns on.
posted by advicepig at 7:31 PM on September 2, 2008

Arduino plus SCR dimmer would be an easy-ish way to make one, for the electronically inclined, but I doubt you'd come in much under $50 (and that's not including the lamp).
posted by hattifattener at 7:41 PM on September 2, 2008

You could stagger a few lower-wattage lamps on individual times if you really want a simple progressively-lighter solution. In my experience the simple intermatic-style appliance timers are tough to get to an exact time, though, especially if you aren't waking up at the same time every day and need to "reprogram" your setup frequently. (I'm not sure what else is out there that's cheap.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:30 PM on September 2, 2008

I use an x10 mini timer/alarm clock along with a sort of absurdly bright CFL bulb for the same effect. With the x10 timer you could have several lights turn on over the course of an hour. It's especially handy if you can wire your regular room lights to it so that you can turn the lights off from bed.
posted by 0xFCAF at 8:32 PM on September 2, 2008

I have one of these, and it is highly useful. I think it is worth the money, but only because I don't have the skills to make one myself.

I think it works better if you use a really bright light. Go to a specialty light bulb shop and get one of the brightest light bulbs they offer. Full spectrum is not important.
posted by grouse at 8:42 PM on September 2, 2008

I did exactly what needs more cowbell describes several winters ago before I had Mr. shelbaroo to make winters more bearable. It did get the job done, more in the sense that it was easier to extract myself from hibernation mode when there was already some light in the room. I had 2 bulbs w/ cheapo ($5) vacation timers on very basic bases (socket + plug) which I then attached to a single block. I used an old tomato cage with gauzy fabric stretched over it as a shade in an attempt to make the whole thing non-hideous.

I don't remember the exact wattage, but it might have been a 40W-equivalent bulb, and 60W-equivalent bulb. Here's how I set it up:
1. 45 min before wake time: set lower-watt bulb to turn on.
2. 15 m before wake time: set lower-watt bulb to turn off. set higher-watt bulb to turn on.
3. wake time: set lower-watt bulb to turn back on.
4. some time later: set both bulbs to turn off.

If you have the kind of constitution that refuses to acknowledge the start of a new day without at least some evidence of light, this may help you. I've never owned one of the "real" dawn simulator alarm clocks, so I can't speak to the qualitative difference. But I imagine it would be more pleasant and a gentler way to wake up. The wattage on regular bulbs is difficult to get right - you want the first stage to be low enough to be gentle, but the last stage to be bright enough to feel awkward staying in bed. It would probably look better also, unless you want to invest way more effort than I did in faking a "modern" shade. Also, cowbell's guess that the vacation timers get out of whack easily is totally correct: if I didn't stay on top of those settings and re-calibrate regularly, the whole system would get totally out of line.

That said, it *was* very cheap and *did* give me the will to get out of bed in the mornings.
posted by shelbaroo at 9:29 PM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

You can plug one of these into an existing lamp. It's bare-bones, but I've been using one for several years and it works without a hitch.
posted by bunji at 10:58 PM on September 2, 2008 [5 favorites]

Last week I asked exactly this question to a friend. He's making the lamp himself, mainly as a hobby project, but the price was a good incentive. As it turns out, it isn't easy to make it cheap and have good quality. The main reason for the high price is the dimmer - if it´s cheap, it will get very hot. I'll forward this thread to him, maybe he has some good tips. Be prepared however, to invest a lot of time.
posted by Psychnic at 2:20 AM on September 3, 2008

If you already have a TV in your room, I'm wondering if you could get away with putting it close to the head of your bed before sleep and playing a video of an actual dawn on a timer-- dawn chorus optional, of course.
posted by jamjam at 8:19 AM on September 3, 2008

I should add that the sunset feature is also highly useful for insomniacs. Turn it on, start reading in bed, and pretty soon the lights will be dim and you will feel like sleeping.
posted by grouse at 8:21 AM on September 3, 2008

I'd say just try a CFL on a regular timer to start with. See if it helps you any w/out spending a lot of $$$.

I got an el-cheapo timer at Ikea and have a lamp with a greenish shade; I'm thinking about switching to a blue shade to be more dawn-like, but the green shade was the one I happened to have.

Then if that's not good enough, you can try home hackery or spending more for something more sophisticated.
posted by epersonae at 9:51 AM on September 3, 2008

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