Sunrise alarm clocks: opinions?
November 6, 2021 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I have spent the past month whining about how much I hate waking up in the dark and how much better my mood is in the summer, when I wake up naturally with the sunrise, rather than being violently jolted out of sleep with an alarm. It occurs to me that there is a gadget for that. Have you used a sunrise alarm clock? Did it work for you?

Basically, I am interested in whether these things work technically, and also whether people actually find it easier/better to wake up with a sunrise alarm clock than with an ordinary alarm. Recommendations for sunrise alarm clocks would also be welcome.

It occurs to me that I could also put a smart bulb in my overhead light and program that to gradually get brighter. Anyone try that?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious to Home & Garden (38 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
We have the JBL Horizon and like how the light effect works.
posted by slkinsey at 8:50 AM on November 6, 2021

I use the smart bulb approach on a bedside lamp and it works quite well. Recommended, but make sure your app interface slows timed brightness (most do, but even so check)
posted by aramaic at 8:57 AM on November 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I love my sunrise alarm clock. I have one of the basic versions from Philips. It is really the only way I can still wake up at 5:30am while it's still pitch black out in the world, because ya'know, there's a light growing steadily brighter near your face as it approaches wake up time. 10/10 would recommend.
posted by ellerhodes at 9:09 AM on November 6, 2021 [6 favorites]

I've used a couple of sunrise alarm clocks, one LED-based and one with an incandescent bulb. They both worked the same -- gradually fade up from off to full brightness over about 30min before playing an alarm sound -- and are vastly better than being jolted awake from a deep sleep. If you regularly need to wake up when it's dark, it's among the best price:quality-of-life ratios I can think of.

The default android Clock app has a sunrise mode as part of its alarm options, using the phone screen to cast light. There are at least a few standalone apps that do the same thing; I liked "Gentle Alarm" on Android. A phone screen puts out less light -- and is therefore less effective -- than an actual lamp, but for me it's still much better than nothing.

Having a sunset mode is a nice feature to look for: a bedside reading lamp that fades to darkness over 30 minutes can be useful for getting to sleep.
posted by metaBugs at 9:16 AM on November 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have, and it works very well for me.
posted by LizardBreath at 9:18 AM on November 6, 2021

I use Home Assistant for cloud-free home automation, and I ended up putting 12ft of controllable color temperature LEDs (two self-adhesive strips) on a 1.5" aluminum strip. I balanced that on top of the fixture that supports the vertical blinds in our bedroom, so that the light reflects off the wall/ceiling. It's driven by a Gledopto zigbee dimmer, which can't do super-slow-fade-ups and has a high minimum brightness (aside, if y'all know of a better zigbee or z-wave dimmer for this application, please shout), but having a diffuse cool color-temp light on the ceiling in the morning is really nice for me, and really helps my wife, who is not a morning person. I think she'd say she has a love-hate relationship with it (loves feeling more awake when she has to be, hates waking up before the sun's actually up).
posted by Alterscape at 9:19 AM on November 6, 2021

I have one of the Phillips ones with the sound disabled and it is great. It isn’t just the brightness but the color temperature that ramps up (or down when going to bed) and it’s much much easier than having a sudden noise in the darkness.
posted by janell at 9:24 AM on November 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

I also have a Philips wake up clock and I love it. I remember thinking it was too expensive when we bought it but it has been absolutely worth it. I like that the Philips clock is properly bright - the clock is enough to light up the whole room. I also have a weird little dimmer plug that only works with an incandescent lamp, and that is also fine, although it's more of a pain in the ass to use. I generally don't use an audible alarm at all, unless I have something really important I can't miss first thing in the morning.

I also have Philips Hue smart bulbs and tried using a smart home routine with them to wake me up (the clock I have doesn't let you set a different time for weekends, which I would prefer, and it would be nice to get rid of nightstand clutter) but unfortunately when you dim up from complete darkness the initial onset is still pretty bright to me - they go from 0 to 10% and to me that's more like someone just switching on the lights than a gentle dawn simulation.

Wake-up/dawn simulation clocks are a totally life-improving devices!
posted by mskyle at 9:25 AM on November 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

I have one of the fancy ones from Phillips. At this point it functions primarily as a clock in our bedroom, occasionally as a reading lamp. It's not an issue of functionality, it's basically that my husband and I don't get up at the same time. I can't say that while using it (when sleeping alone) it made any difference in my mood since I wake up in angst year round. It is also comically huge on my nightstand which bothers me more than I thought it would.

I find it easier and best for me to wake up with the vibrations from my Apple watch.

Actually I will say that this clock makes great ambient light for romance in the bedroom.
posted by sm1tten at 9:26 AM on November 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have a Lifx mini bulb that I put in a globe lamp from Ikea and it works wonderfully! I set it to start out low and orange and then become brighter and more cream colored over half an hour. It's super customizable with a phone app, so I also set it to fade out over 5-10 minutes as I meditate and before sleep every night. Very occasionally (like once a year, maybe), it has connection issues and doesn't work, usually turning off the bulb at the switch, leaving it off for a bit, and turning it back on solves whatever it was. I would recommend it to everyone, it's such a better way to wake up!
posted by carlypennylane at 9:35 AM on November 6, 2021

I've had one of the Philips ones for years, and I'm an ardent fan.

I wouldn't recommend the top of the line one, because I don't want to control my alarm clock with an app (and even if I did, it's a lot more money for not a lot more features), but I would recommend springing for one of the ones that does a red-light-to-white-light sunrise.
posted by box at 9:35 AM on November 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

I use the one built in to my Android phone, and it works really well.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:36 AM on November 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

It didn't work for me. I have one from Phillips, a refurb and a pretty dumb one (no app, not even auto-adjust). It's okay, but I already have a pretty irregular sleep pattern and that didn't help me much.
posted by kschang at 9:39 AM on November 6, 2021

We have one of the Phillips ones -- on each side of the bed. The second was a plucked from Goodwill for my side of the bed because it was there. For me it's made a big difference having the light on my side of the bed. Being quite professional at snoozing, I was able to use mr countrymod as a light shield when the light was further away. They really make a difference!
posted by countrymod at 9:40 AM on November 6, 2021

I bought my Phillips model in 2010 to survive a dark sublet that backed up to a hillside in the Bay Area for a winter when I had to get up at 6AM, and it was a huge immediate improvement. These days I mostly just wake up when it's light out, but on the rare occasion where I have to get up in the dark it's helpful. Most of the time it gets used as a bedside table light, and I like the fact that it can be very dim at bedtime. At some point the lightbulb will die and I'll have to figure out if I can replace it, but it's survived over a decade and many moves like a champ.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:46 AM on November 6, 2021

I use a $12 Wiz color and tunable white bulb in a bedside lamp. One of its default settings is a slow-ramp "wakeup" mode, which I have set to start brightening about 15 minutes before I want to actually crack my lids. I do have an audible alarm — chill music on a Sonos — set to play at h-hour, but I'm almost always awake before it goes off. I wholly endorse the gentle wakeup experience of a sunrise alarm, however you cobble it together.
posted by mumkin at 9:56 AM on November 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've had a basic one from Philips for years, and I absolutely love it. Perfect for those cold and dark mornings, and makes getting out of bed a million times easier. When I wake up in the dark, I get disoriented. When this one dies, I'm going to splurge for the high end model with different sounds.
posted by pumpkinlatte at 9:58 AM on November 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have one from Philips but no longer need it, which to me is an endorsement of its powers. These days I just get up with my phone alarm. I use the sunset/dimming feature as a nightlight as I am falling asleep.
posted by 8603 at 10:17 AM on November 6, 2021

I have a Philips alarm that brightens slowly over the course of half an hour. I tend to wake up about fifteen minutes into the brightening!
posted by yarntheory at 10:20 AM on November 6, 2021

Yes, yarntheory, that’s correct. I wake up while the light level is still very low. I switched back to a conventional (phone) alarm because I need to be able to sleep until the last possible minute.
posted by 8603 at 10:39 AM on November 6, 2021

Don’t know if this is of interest but I have found using an app that wakes you up with your chosen music from Spotify that increases in volume gradually has made a 200% difference to how I feel waking up. I used to do the whole jolting alarm clock thing and would literally say “fuck!” every morning.
posted by cultureclash82 at 10:53 AM on November 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Another Philips fan: we've used this discontinued model for maybe 10 years: you can find ones on eBay. The wake-up sequence seems pretty well timed, and the light is properly bright at its brightest. (It was made for incandescents which ramp up from zero more smoothly than LEDs, though some LEDs are better at that now.)

But you could certainly rig something up with a basic table lamp and a Lifx or Wiz bulb.
posted by holgate at 11:32 AM on November 6, 2021

My spouse absolutely raves about their Philips. I can't guarantee their experience is because of the light rather than the anticipation of the light, but I'm told it was well worth the price, either way. (It doesn't do anything at all for me. But, I also sleep happily with the curtains open in places where the sun doesn't set.)
posted by eotvos at 12:14 PM on November 6, 2021

I have found using an app that wakes you up with your chosen music from Spotify that increases in volume gradually has made a 200% difference to how I feel waking up

Before Spotify, Sonos, smart bulbs and even the Internet, I used a conventional timer switch that I had hooked up a coffee maker and my audio gear to.

The audible click from the contact in the timer followed by the whirring of the tape deck reels usually half-woke me already before the first track started and the coffee maker emitting its first gurgle. Those tended to finalise the waking up quite nicely.

(And gradually increasing the sound level would have required a motor-driven volume control)
posted by Stoneshop at 12:53 PM on November 6, 2021

I have a philips Hue and a handful of of their fancy adjustable (and color-adjustable ) wireless bulbs in my house. One in the bedroom. The Hue app on my phone allowed me to easily set the thing to slowly fade into brightness in my room at a me-determined and easily-adjusted time. And I freakin’ love it.

S.A.D. No More
posted by armoir from antproof case at 1:35 PM on November 6, 2021

I have a relatively recent Phillips model and I love it. I still don’t love getting up early but it is a million times less painful, and even the sound it makes is just way more pleasant and less abrasive than my previous alarm which jolted me awake in a state of horrified panic. Expensive, but for me totally worth it.
posted by pie_seven at 2:22 PM on November 6, 2021

Phillips HF3520 user here.

I'm very pleased with the device. I like the adjustable brightness and the slow 'sunrise' that happens before the alarm goes off, I like being able to set the brightness ahead of time at whatever level I want it to land at. There's a built-in radio you can also use on wakeup (or the alarm tone). I like that the face of it is broad, so it's not like there is a pinpoint of light piercing my eyelids.
posted by mcbeth at 2:38 PM on November 6, 2021

Nice to know about all these Philips recommendations if we go back to one. We tried a cheapo knock-off brand from Amazon, and as for that, skip it. The light ramping up was OK if not terribly smooth, but the sound didn't ramp up at all, it just turned on full blast. So we used it without sound for a while, which worked but was obviously not our expectation when we bought it. And then after about 6 months it quit working altogether. So if I were to do it again now working on a budget, I'd do a used Philips before a new knock-off.
posted by solotoro at 2:40 PM on November 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I tried the cheap student version of this (a regular lamp and a mechanical timer) and found it helped a little, but I still needed the audio alarm also.

I just don't do mornings it seems (though I claim myself as a morning person- just as long as I can choose when morning starts.)
posted by freethefeet at 3:58 PM on November 6, 2021

Been using this Philips at Costco for a little while, and it’s great. I sleep so much better at home than at work, and I think a huge part of it is the slow “sunrise.”
posted by sara is disenchanted at 3:58 PM on November 6, 2021

I have a Philips model and I like it a lot. I can't say that I bound out of bed every morning ready to face the day, but definitely helps me wake up better overall.
posted by radioamy at 5:16 PM on November 6, 2021

I used to have a Philips one and it was an improvement over being jolted awake by an alarm clock. I do say "used to," though, there was something about the quality or color of the light that felt unpleasant to me, and it kind of felt "off" to be waking up to fake sunrise when it was still dark outside, because I guess my brain knew it was winter and it wasn't supposed to be light yet or something? Like a jet lag feeling?

That's super nonspecific I realize, and not something I've ever heard anyone else complain about. I ended up giving it to a friend who is very happy with it. (My sleep patterns have also changed in the past few years and I am naturally waking up an hour or so before sunrise, so I thankfully don't have any reason to look for a better way to wake up.)
posted by Squalor Victoria at 5:58 PM on November 6, 2021

I have a philips model (mid level I think, but I've had it for about 5 years now), and I absolutely love it, especially this time of year.

I often wake up about 10 to 15 minutes before the alarm goes off, which is nice, because I like to lie in bed for a bit to wake up before actually getting out of bed. I also really like the alarm sound. It's enough to wake me up, but not so loud to jolt me awake, and it's not abrasive like most alarms. i also really like that the music gently fades in so on the rare occasion that light doesn't wake me up, I'm just gently woken up by the sound.

One thing I especially like about it lately is that I go through phases where I wake up in the night, anywhere from 2 am to 5 am. And in the summer, I can use whether the sun is starting to rise to know whether it's worth going back to sleep. I also find the minute I look at the clock and see the time, I can't get back to sleep. So now, I can just tell myself that if my clock hasn't started to light up, it's not time to get up yet, no need to look at the clock.

It's really made a huge difference for me. I honestly can't imagine not using it now.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:01 PM on November 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I had one in the late 1990s, when I ordered it from a Sharper Image catalog. Used it for a few months and didn't find it especially helpful. Eventually just threw it away.
posted by alex1965 at 6:13 PM on November 6, 2021

I just bought one last week. I got a cheap knock-off of the Philips because I wasn’t sure how much I would like it. As others have said, it has been an immediate and immense quality of life improvement. One thing I like about my knock-off is that it lets you shut off the clock display entirely, so it is completely dark during sleep time - I’m not sure if the name brand version can do this as well. I’ve only had it a week so I can’t speak to longevity of the knock-off but if it craps out I will replace it with a fancy one.
posted by jordemort at 6:49 PM on November 6, 2021

Smart Bulb and iOS Home app schedule for bedside lamp. I don't bother with gradual brightening. I wake when I notice the light. For myself and my spouse that is usually less than 2 mins.
posted by Hey, Zeus! at 1:38 PM on November 7, 2021

I've tried both a specialised sunrise lamp and a smart bulb approach. Both work brilliantly.

Waking into a dark room with an audible alarm going off at full volume: Worst possible way to wake up. Winter is a misery.

Waking into a room that has just been flooded with light, with an alarm either going off or about to go off at full volume: Better, but still jarring and miserable. Winter is a misery.

Waking with a Philips sunrise lamp: Life-changing. I am gently led into wakefulness by a brightening light and the growing sound of birdsong. No adrenalin surge. Winter is just another season.

(The lamp survived about a decade before it was killed by a power surge.)

Waking with a smart bulb (Hue) hooked up to a sleep-cycle-tracking app (Sleep Cycle on the iPhone): Every bit as good as the dedicated lamp. I've lost the birdsong, boo, but the controls are much easier to use; you win some, you lose some. Winter is still just another season.

Would recommend to anyone who struggles with dark mornings.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 7:54 AM on November 8, 2021

Response by poster: All right, I am convinced. Phillips sunrise alarm clock is on its way. I will report back after I've used it a bit.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:42 AM on November 10, 2021

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