Cicadian or Sunrise Alarm Clocks?
April 19, 2008 12:54 PM   Subscribe

Anybody have experience with cicadian rhythm alarm clocks or "sunrise" alarm clocks? More inside...

I'm a gadget lover with a snooze-button addiction and I'm curious about whether the right alarm clock would help me feel less miserable about dragging myself out of bed in the morning. I've read about alarm clocks that measure your cicadian rhythms to wake you up at a time when your body feels well rested and wondered if anyone has had any experience with them (specific brand/model recommendations are welcome, but I'm happy with general advice as well).

I'm also curious about alarm clocks that wake you up by simulating a sunrise (I love being woken up naturally by the sun, but my career requires me to wake up before sunrise). My wife suffers from seasonal effective disorder and uses light therapy, so this might be nice for her, especially compared to my annoying 6-times-per-morning snooze button routine.

Any suggestions on these types of alarm clocks would be appreciated. (I already have an alarm clock which wakes me up by playing music or nature sounds with gradually increasing volume, so I don't need suggestions on this type).

posted by Alabaster to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Anecdotal only, but I've had a sunrise alarm clock for a few months and I love it. When I wake, I feel fully awake, even if I'm really tired (due to lack of sleep) - what I mean is, I may be tired but I'm never sleepy. I am not tempted to go back to sleep, because I feel wide awake.

I have quite a few friends who have them too and they are similarly in love with them!
posted by different at 1:00 PM on April 19, 2008

I used this Sunrise alarm clock for a year. It was okay; in winter, I enjoyed waking up to light, and I woke up more gradually and peacefully than being jerked awake by sudden noise. I didn't find it did anything for my SAD though.

Then my husband started to use his radio alarm clock to wake up about an hour before me, and the clock became much less useful.

Then it broke after a year. Considering I spent over a hundred bucks on it (or had someone else spend it as a Christmas gift), I was pretty pissed off. So while I found it had some benefits, I wouldn't recommend that model.
posted by bibliowench at 1:03 PM on April 19, 2008

Unless I'm exhausted, I can get by without using an alarm clock. The trick is to decide what time I want to wake up in the morning. Then, when go to sleep at night I relax for about 10 seconds. Just as I feel as though I'm starting to drift off to sleep, I sit up and tell myself "You MUST wake up at 5:45!" It always works (but, like I said), unless I'm totally exhausted.

That said, I get lazy and rely on an alarm clock to wake me up. Usually it's set for 5:30. I changed it the other day to 6AM and woke up at 5:35, wondering why it wasn't going off.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:09 PM on April 19, 2008

What you're asking for is the Sleeptracker Watch (link goes to review).

The review is by a friend of mine named Andru who used the watch for a long time and really loves it. You could pair the two and get an interesting bonus, perhaps.

They're available for much cheaper on ebay, to, FYI.
posted by disillusioned at 1:25 PM on April 19, 2008

I've had a Bio-Brite sunrise clock for about a year and a half and I'm a fan. I hate being jarred awake by bleeping; light plus gradually louder bleeping is a lot more tolerable. I also have SAD and I don't think the clock affects that directly, but it definitely doesn't hurt to wake up gradually and thus be less rageful in the morning. (I am a super snooze button addict/night person/morning cranky-ass slowpoke and I actually use the clock in conjunction with a cell phone alarm across the room from my bed.) It's extra helpful in the dead of winter. Since I got the clock I've noticed that around this time of year (in the upper Midwest), the light becomes less necessary as the actual sunlight wakes me up.

No experience with circadian clocks. I bet I'd love one but I bet I'd also default to about a 26-hour day.
posted by clavicle at 1:26 PM on April 19, 2008

I had good success with a homebrew solution- I put a simple lamp timer on a fluorescent lamp with two 40 watt "Daylight" tubes in it. It also works as a "sun box" during the day. Too well, really, because if I forget to turn the lights down in the evening, I'm up all night.

Another trick that I found for myself is to put a space heater on the same timer. I can't sleep when I'm hot, and after a few minutes of bright lite and increasing heat, I'm really, really done sleeping.

And I pop a melatonin around 8 or 9 every night. That really helps keep my internal body clock set for sleeping at night and being awake during the day.

(As I've gotten older, I've found that the "I will wake up at 6am!" thing works better for me, only because I'm getting to sleep earlier. But I also find that I wake up about three times prior to my set time to check the clock. Don't know it that changes my sleep quality any, but it can't help. It also helps to have an enjoyable task to do first thing in the AM. Makes me a little less willing to procrastinate about waking up.)

((I've also been curious about the circiadian rhythm clocks- I always wanted to build an alarm clock that is sort of an opposite snooze button. More of just a timer really- I hit the button right as I am ready to fall asleep, and then X hours later, it beeps. I never took the time to decide what X should be, and the idea fell by the wayside.))
posted by gjc at 1:32 PM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Forgot to add- I sleep and feel better the closer my sleep matches the sunset and sunrise, and by doing "lazy" things at night before bed.
posted by gjc at 1:35 PM on April 19, 2008

Not wanting to spend a lot of money on an alarm clock, I sometimes turn on a light the first time my alarm goes off. This is a small reading light mounted by my bed, and I face it away from me, so that it's sort of a dim light, so I can still fall back asleep. Obviously not quite the same as a sunlight simulating clock, but it worked better than a normal alarm, and I didn't have to buy new stuff.

On preview, yeah, telling yourself you're going to wake up at a certain time works pretty well.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 3:41 PM on April 19, 2008

different: Out of interest, which sunrise alarm clock do you use?
posted by gentle at 4:43 PM on April 19, 2008

I do have SAD, use a sunrise alarm (plus a lightbox, during winter, if you're curious), and am most adamantly not a morning person. Ugh. Switching from a traditional alarm clock to the sunrise "alarm" a couple year ago was transformative. No more no more jangled nerves from that detestable noise, no more stress from having overslept after the 12th reset of the buzzer. Wonderful invention.

However, it's mostly been useful for training my body when to gracefully wake itself up. Whatever effect the gadget might have had on my SAD pales in comparison to regular use of a light box, and getting outside every day for a big dose of high-noon sunshine. As long as you're getting it as a complement to her light therapy, rather than expecting it to be the therapy itself, you'll be happy to have done it.

Allow at least a couple months for your bodies to adjust to depending on light cues alone. In the meantime, set it to finish the "sunrise" 30 minutes before your need to be up, and set one of the screechy ones for the real deadline.

Mine (no longer on the market) has a pathetically weak light built in, but allows plugging in your own lamps to supplement. Look for one that got a similar feature. That way you can do things like blasting yourself with light to ensure you don't miss work, while she can choose whether to plug in the lamps on her side on the nights when she plans to sleep later.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 5:17 PM on April 19, 2008

I swear by our dawn simulator. I have SAD, or rather *had* SAD before we got this thing. It's very much regulated our sleep schedule (and even that of our cats, to a certain extent :) ), to the point that we wake up at close to the same time whether it's used or not that morning. My husband used to need two alarm clocks to wake up and get moving in the morning; now, we wake up about halfway through the cycle, and that's it. (As a bonus, it has a beeper alarm at the end of the wake cycle if you don't turn it off beforehand. We've used it once in almost 5 years.)
posted by tigerjade at 6:43 PM on April 19, 2008

I have that. I wouldn't recommend it, the progressiveness isn't all that progressive. However, it works great for me - I notice a difference in how happy I am in the morning when I use it.

However, my wife hates it and refuses to let me use it - she wakes up as soon as it first starts, about a half an hour before it's time to get up. So now it's just a crappy reading light and weird smell machine. Oh, and it makes noises which were cool until my wife told me where in the track it loops. *sigh*

The point is - the progressive light type of alarm may work well for you, and I'd recommend getting one. However, be warned that it has the potential to not work well for both people in the bed.
posted by krisak at 7:17 PM on April 19, 2008

I have SAD and thought the clock I had tried (I borrowed one for a few months) which simulated a sunrise was nifty but it did nothing for my sad.

The only thing that has changed the way I wake up and which has affected my SAD was the skylight that we installed above our bed in our current house. It is installed in the north-facing side of the roof and is directly above me. I thought I would hate it but I'm shocked to find that, after two years of sleeping under it, my SAD is hardly noticeable. Unlike the first 39 years of my life, which were miserable in the darker months.
posted by jeanmari at 7:28 PM on April 19, 2008

I have owned a Sunrise System Dawn Simulator SRS 100 for a number of years, and I find that I wake up easily, and in a much better mood than with a regular audible alarm.

This model is a bit different from most of the other dawn clocks I've seen, in that it doesn't have a built-in light -- it controls any lamp that you plug into it. I do have to say that the interface on this clock was designed by someone who had apparently never used an alarm clock before, and certainly never tried to use the one they were designing. So, I highly recommend dawn clocks in general, but not this model.
posted by findango at 7:33 PM on April 19, 2008

... must ... resist ... insect ... pun ...
Actually, if you can arrange a few nights in a very quiet, very dark room, with no obligations in the morning, learn your own sleep cycle by keeping track of your natural wake-up points. I found out I wake up naturally at intervals of 4 hours 20 minutes, which explained a whole lot of stuff (why 8 hours was never right for me, and how my deadline-related half-night's-sleeps work at all, and why I'm 'off' all day if I sleep past 9 hours, even if I was tired enough to need it, because I'm not about to go to 13 ...). I think everyone should try it.

I suspect that the Sleeptracker would confirm my observations, and I've thought about getting one. Any more experiences from MeFites?

After the failure of my third cheap alarm clock in nine months, I acquired the 'I will wake up' trick. It probably helped that I was rising and retiring at the same time every day, without exception, and that sunrise was near my wake-up time. But I would literally pop awake at 6 AM, pick up my pocketwatch, drop off again, and pop awake again at 6:30 on the nose to get up. Weird experience for this chronic snooze-junkie.

Watching thread with interest.
posted by eritain at 10:11 PM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think the word you're looking for is "circadian," not "cicadian." (I only mention it because you'll probably find more and better info in your research if you're googling the right word.) I don't have any personal experience with these types of alarms, but I'm a snooze-junky who has been meaning to look into them for a long time. Thanks for asking this question.
posted by vytae at 11:36 PM on April 19, 2008

Despite the bad reviews, I've been pretty happy with the Soleil one. It definitely makes for a happier wakeup. But, it rarely wakes me up. I need to use the radio setting.
posted by zeek321 at 7:28 AM on April 20, 2008

I looked into these kind of lamps / timers last winter, and was ultimately put off by the price. (Good selection here, by the way).

Like gjc above, I went with a low-budget solution: a simple outlet timer hooked up to a lamp next to my bed. Although you lose the 'progressive illumination' aspect of dawn simulators, it still worked quite well for me. And I could use what I already had around the house. For my particular lamp, it helped if the light was somewhat indirect -- I put the lamp slightly behind my bedframe so that when it turned on, the light was gentler than full-blast. I could also imagine putting some kind of semi-opaque diffuser (a bit of frosted plexiglass?) between the lamp and the bed to better simulate the evenness of sunlight.
posted by alb at 11:31 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

gentle: we've all got these. Bloody ugly but they do the job.
posted by different at 1:31 PM on April 21, 2008

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