Dawn simulation was invented in the 1890s, and dawn simulating alarm clocks have been around since the 1970s. But spending time with modern dawn simulating alarm clocks feels like stepping into a cheerful sci-fi future. These lights are designed to mimic the light curve of the sunrise and will kick the circadian rhythms into gear.
Best Dawn Simulator
After spending multiple days reviewing dawn-simulating alarm clocks, I’ve found that the best dawn simulator is the Philips HF3520 Sunrise Alarm Clock. It’s beautifully designed and works very well. With 300 lux of light, and 20 stages of illumination from red to blue, this sunrise simulation feels completely natural.
Several audio clips complement the light. These will help you gradually wake up (or drift off to sleep) pleasantly.
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For more information on the Philips HF3520, see the Product Reviews section below.
Runner Up: Best Wake-Up Light
Philips’ Somneo Wake-Up Light is the highest-priced light on the list, and it looks beautiful. The aesthetics are a step up from the HF3520, though the core wake-up light functionality is the same. There are a few added bells and whistles on this one that aren’t found on the HF3520, like a USB charging port and a few more audio clips to choose from.
But the added functions aren’t really a big advantage. If you really love the cool torus-like look of this sunrise simulator, go for it. If not, there’s no need to spend the extra money on this one.
Budget Pick: Sunrise Alarm Clock
The LBell Wake-Up Light has a great feature set and is positioned at a fantastic price point. It only includes 12 transition steps in its dawn simulator and only provides 200 lux of light in total. It offers lower specs than the high-end Philips models, but still not bad. It includes 7 sounds you can use for dawn and dusk simulation, and the overall build quality is good.
This light is from a Chinese-made brand, but it is covered under a 90-day money-back guarantee and an 18-month warranty.
If you don’t want to break the bank on your dawn simulating light, the LBell is unquestionably the best choice for your needs.
Wake-Up Light Buyer’s Tips
How Much Light Does a Dawn Simulator Put Out?
Dawn simulators tend to work with just 100-300 lux of light, surprisingly little. The key to this system is the changing color cast and timing of the light simulation, as opposed to the overall brightness of the sun. The way the color temperature changes mimics the sun, and this progression is what seems to work so well for light therapy for SAD treatments.
How Do Dawn Simulators Work?
Dawn simulator lights emit light that mimics the sun’s rays in the early dawn. During dawn, your eyes are closed and you are sleeping, but your retinas still absorb some light through the closed eyelids. This light helps set the biological clock and jumpstarts circadian rhythm.
As the sensors inside the retina detect light, melatonin is suppressed in the body, and you begin to feel more awake. As the color cast becomes bluer in temperature, more melatonin is suppressed, and you wake up.
The reverse takes place as you go to sleep. This is why there has been such a push for people to stop using their screens late at night, or to use Night Shift or f.Lux apps to remove blue light from the light spectrum. Blue light suppresses melatonin production, which prevents people from getting to sleep at night.
Benefits of a Wake-Up Light
Dawn Simulating Alarm Clocks have several benefits. Among them are:
- Resetting the circadian rhythm
- Seasonal Affective Disorder treatments
- Easier to use regularly than “SAD lights”
When it comes to light therapy, one of the nice things about a wake-up light is that it’s a set-and-forget system. Once you’ve got your dawn simulation and dusk simulation setup, you don’t usually need to do much in order to use it. Just go to bed, which you’ll be doing anyway.
If you are working with Light Therapy Glasses or a SAD lamp, you’ll need to actively carve out 30 minutes or more to sit in front of it to get benefits. With the dawn simulator, it will just turn on at the right time in order to help your sleep and wake-up process.
Color Temperature Changes
All of the sunrise alarm clocks in this round-up feature color temperature changing lights. In the case of dawn simulation, this means that the light will start out with a red/orange glow, and slowly morph into a daylight color cast.
This is designed to mimic the way the sun’s rays actually work, and to simulate dawn and dusk as accurately as possible.
There are many lower-end alarm clocks like the Mosche Clock reviewed here that advertise themselves as dawn simulating or sunrise simulating, but they don’t actually change color temperature. Instead, they have essentially a dimmer on the bulb, and that dimmer is slowly increased.
This method doesn’t work as well, as it doesn’t actually simulate the color changes perceptible to the eye.
For this reason, none of these alarm clocks are included in this list.
Color Shifting Apps and Systems
If you’re even considering purchasing a dawn-simulating light, you should absolutely be using fLux on your computer, Night Shift on your phone, or any other blue-light filtering systems available. These apps are mostly free, and are often built-into your OS at this point.
Is a Dawn Simulator the same as a SAD Light?
The lights used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder are often 10,000 Lux or more in power. These lights, such as the Verilux Happy Light line of SAD lamps, function very differently than a dawn simulator. SAD lights (or Happy Lights, to use a more friendly term) are designed to blast you with daylight-simulating light for a period of time.
These lights are in fact much dimmer than the sun. But when placed a foot or so from the body, and exposed for over 30 min, they seem to be quite effective at treating Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Should You Use Both a Wake-Up Light and a SAD Light?
If you’re struggling from Seasonal Affective Disorder, it may be a good idea to experiment with both dawn-simulating alarm clocks and SAD lights. Discover what works best for you, and continue using that.
Dawn Simulating Alarm Clocks Vs SAD Lights
One big advantage of dawn simulating alarm clocks is that once you have the system setup, it’s automated. You don’t really need to do anything at all to get the benefits of the Dawn Simulating light.
SAD Lights, on the other hand, require you to turn on the light and sit in front of it for at least 30 minutes, and often more than an hour, to get the positive effects of the light. Many people just don’t do this and don’t have a morning routine that allows for such a long period of time in front of the light.
According to this article from the Biological Psychiatry Journal, approximately 20% of people who use SAD lights discontinue their use. Those who use dawn-simulating alarms tend not to have this issue.
Do Wake-Up Lights Use UV (Ultraviolet) Rays?
None of the dawn simulator lights on this list, and none of the lights that I know of, use UV light as part of the spectrum. They’re all just visible lights, using standard LEDs. So you’re not getting exposed to any UV rays with this. While there are potentially significant benefits to UV exposure in relation to seasonal depression, vitamin D, etc., I haven’t seen any suggestion that UV would help in terms of dawn simulation
Dawn Simulator Reviews
Best Dawn Simulator Alarm Clock: Philips Wake-Up Light HF3520
Key Points at a Glance
- 300 Lux of Light
- Has 5 wake-up noises
- Includes an FM-Radio
- Minimalist, ultra-modern look
- Covered under a 2-year warranty
Following on the heels of the Philips Somneo is the Philips Wake-Up Light HF 3520. This light is also quite beautiful, though it doesn’t quite hit the design height of the Somneo. It’s also a bit more awkward to pick up. There’s no really easy way to hold it if you want to dust around it or otherwise manipulate the light. Fortunately, all the weight is on the bottom, so it’s pretty well balanced on the nightstand.
The HF3520 has essentially the same dawn simulation and dusk simulation features as the Somneo, and its clock works almost entirely the same. There are fewer bells and whistles on the HF3520, but most of those really aren’t very useful. And the design isn’t quite as cool. But the price tag is a lot lower, making this light a lot more attainable and useful to many buyers.
You can see the natural, gradual light changes. This pattern can take from 20 minutes to 40 minutes to transition, depending on your settings. As with the Somneo, you don’t perceive the individual gradations. It just looks like a natural morphing of the light from orangey dawn to bright daylight. At its max, it’s about as bright as a standard 60-watt bulb.
The wake-up feature typically triggers the light about 20 minutes before the audible alarm sounds at the target time, and often users find they wake up just before the alarm goes off.
The HF3520 has only 5 sounds in its bank, and there’s no USB input to charge your phone. But the USB charger isn’t a big help, and the 5 sounds are quite nice. They include pleasing nature sounds like birds chirping and seaside waves. The sounds are well done, and each is recorded for a long enough time frame that there isn’t an obvious short loop that can get distracting.
There’s also an FM Radio on this one as well, with a wire antenna, but it’s just not a great implementation of a radio.
Like the Somneo, there are two wake-up patterns you can configure on the HF3520. These would correspond to weekday and weekend, or workday and day off. There is no way for the HF3520 to identify the day of the week, unfortunately.
It also has a battery backup, so if you have a power outage, your clock will still function.
And like the Somneo, the HF3520 has a sunset program as well. The light will gradually dim, and white noise will play in order to help you get to sleep. There are no rhythmic breathing sequences with this light, though.
The Bottom Line
The Philips Wake-Up Light HF3520 is an outstanding dawn-simulating alarm clock. It will gracefully wake you up with its beautiful light and will look awesome on your nightstand. It’s priced pretty reasonably, and while the Somneo looks a little cooler, it really isn’t any better at dawn and dusk simulation than the HF3520 is.
This is an excellent choice for a sunrise alarm clock and hits the right balance between price and quality. It is the best dawn simulator for most buyers.
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Key Points at a Glance
- Produces 350 Lux of Light
- Gradual color-shift from deep orangey-red to daylight colors
- Comes with 8 Alarm sounds
- Includes an 8-hour battery back-up
- Includes USB charging input
- Includes FM Radio
- Dual voltage 100-240 volts
- Covered under a 2-year warranty
The Somneo is Philips’ top of the line Dawn Simulating light, and it works quite well. The design is strikingly futuristic, and it looks more like a sculptural object than an alarm clock. It’s got a strange donut/torus shape that immediately grabs attention, and is also useful. It’s generally easier to pick up this alarm clock than it is to pick up other alarm clocks.
The Somneo gently wakes you up from your slumber with its deep, luxurious red light that mimics the color of the early dawn. Gradually, the Somneo transitions to a yellower light and then a more daylight-simulating light as the lamp progresses through its phases.
And it really does what you would expect given a light at this price point. There are no easily-perceptible jumps in light color or brightness. Just a smooth stroll up from complete darkness to shining dawn.
Philips is an unquestioned leader in the Dawn Simulator Alarm Clock category, and the Somneo is their flagship product. And it’s that good.
The light works as a simple touch screen, and all controls are configured through the light itself. The clock portion is minimalist and stylish, and the numbers gradually fade and change colors with the light. At its darkest point, the numerals are just barely visible. And the Somneo has a light sensor built-in, so it knows the ambient brightness of your room.
Not a whole lot of light is emitted by the HF3650 lamp. Only 350 lux of light are used in the wake-up light, far less than the 10,000 commonly used in SAD lights. But the level of illumination is ideal, and the whole system works really well to simulate the dawn in a very pleasing way.
You choose how long the sweep through the color spectrum is, from 5 minutes to 40 minutes.
The Somneo has an emergency 8-hour backup battery. So if your power goes out in the middle of the night, the Someno will still wake you up on time. This is a pretty useful feature if you frequently suffer from power outages.
There are 8 sound options on the Somneo. Most of these are natural sounds like birds chirping, cows mooing, etc. Also included is white noise to help fall asleep, which is always a favorite. You can choose to leave the white noise on all night, should you need that, or you can have it shut off at a certain time.
There are two “profiles” you can configure, which will presumably be weekday and weekend, or workday and day off. This works well, but there’s no automatic system that identifies the day of the week. You have to set that manually.
And while this light is primarily useful as a dawn simulator, it also has a dusk simulator as well. This works the opposite way, and is designed to gradually help you to go to sleep. There are a few options tied to the dusk simulator: a breathing system that helps relax you, and encourages sleep, and a rain/white noise system that also encourages sleep.
The Somneo has a ton of bells and whistles, though many users will find these bells and whistles unnecessary. For example, the Somneo includes an FM Radio. This is great if you love to wake up to local news or a local radio station. But it doesn’t fit with the dawn simulator’s design. Do you really want to hear some jarring FM Radio DJ or NPR Newsreader gabbing along with the soothing, morphing light of your wake up light? No.
I suppose having easy access to an FM Radio on your nightstand is helpful, even if you’re not using that part in conjunction with the wake-up functionality. But the FM Radio doesn’t work amazingly well, and there’s no easily-adjustable antenna or anything. It’s a waste.
Similarly, the USB plugin is useful. But a lot of people tend to plug in their phone to charge overnight in an outlet next to the alarm clock anyway.
And one of the big tips that sleep researchers talk about is to keep your phone out of the bedroom, or at least not within easy reach if your bed. If you wake up at 2am and are having trouble falling back to sleep, the worst thing you can do is grab your phone and start using it. You’re suppressing melatonin production and whirring that brain up into action. Nothing good will come of this.
The phone hook-up is a bit weird, too. You can play music from your phone into the Somneo through the Aux input, but you can’t play it through the USB connection. There’s no way to wake up to a song on your phone.
In general, these additional features don’t add up to much that is particularly useful.
The Bottom Line
The Philips Somneo HF3650 is the coolest looking dawn simulator alarm clock on this list, and it works very well at its primary task. It simulates the dawn effectively and gently wakes you up in a naturalistic way.
If you love the design of this unit, and want a bit of that futurism, then go for it. But given the price difference between the Somneo and the Philips HF3520, as well as the Lumie Bodyclock (both discussed in this section), you’re not really getting much more for your dollar with this unit compared to those.
If you have the money and are in love with the design, go with the Somneo. If you don’t feel the need to spend the extra coin, consider the other options. They’re just as good in terms of their dawn simulation.
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Budget-Friendly: LBell Wake- Up Light
Key Points at a Glance
- Produces 200 Lux of Light
- Includes Dawn and Dusk Simulation
- Color Temperature changes over the course of the simulation
- Includes 7 different wake-up audio clips
- Has an included FM radio
- Includes a USB Charging Port
- Battery back-up included
- Covered under a 90-day warranty and 18 months of service
The LBell Wake-Up Light is a fairly high-quality dawn-simulating alarm clock at a great price point. Like the Philips sunrise lights, the LBell has a touchscreen surface that feels slick and modern. It doesn’t reach the design aesthetic of the higher-end Philips alarm clocks, but this clock is attractive, minimalist, and well-designed.
Using this wake-up light is pretty similar to the other ones on our list. Set your wake-up time, and how long you want the light to come on before the set alarm time (from about 10 minutes to 60 minutes). When that peak hits, the alarm will go off and the light will be at full brightness.
You can choose the clock to play one of 7 different audio sounds to accompany the light alarm. These sounds are: birds, ocean waves, stream, beep, wind chimes, a couple of different music options, and the FM Radio.
There is a more noticeable stair-stepping of the light on the LBell compared to some of the more expensive lights. There are only 12 steps to the LBell, while there are 20+ in the higher-end models. Still, you don’t really notice that much, and the morphing of the light is not particularly distracting.
If you place the light above you, or on a shelf away from your bed a bit, you’ll notice the stair-stepping of the brightness less.
There’s no day of the week functionality, but there are two programs: workday and day-off. You can choose to wake up at one of two different times each day. Fortunately, you don’t need to set the alarm each night.
You can turn the time display off completely at night if you’d like, which is helpful.
There is a USB charging port on this light — something only available in expensive Philips Somneo line of wake-up lights. There’s also an FM Radio, which some may find useful but I certainly don’t.
A few other random features are included with this light, including the ability to turn the light on in different colors (e.g. pink, green, whatever). If you want a color changing LED light for your bedroom, and not just a wake-up light, well this will do it!
The warranty on this unit is pretty short, at only 90 days. That’s not great, but LBell does include 18 months of service should you need a repair or assistance.
The Bottom Line
The LBell Dawn-Simulating Alarm Clock is basically a Chinese knock-off of the Philips Wake-Up Lights. But it’s really a pretty good alarm clock sold at a great price point. It works better than the Lumi, and is certainly a better value than the lowest-end Philips Alarm clock.
It has all the features a good dawn-simulating alarm should have, and it’s sold at a great price point. Just understand that it doesn’t step through the color transitions as smoothly as the Philips lights. For this reason, the LBell is the budget pick among wake-up lights.
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Also Good: Lumie Bodyclock Active 250 Wake-Up Light
Key Points at a Glance
- 500 Lux of illumination
- Uses a light bulb (included), not an LED light
- Gradual orange/red to daylight transition
- Includes battery back-up
- Comes with 6 different wake-up sounds
- Has both sunrise and sunset simulation
- You have to reset the alarm each night
- 1-year warranty
Along with the Philips selection of dawn simulator lights, the Lumie Bodyclock is a solid choice for a sunrise alarm. The Lumie Bodyclock has a competitive design and build-out compared to the Philips lights, if perhaps not quite as good.
That said, the Bodyclock looks outstanding on the nightstand. And the glorious lines of light that accompany the dawn simulator are really awesome.
With this system, you can choose how long you want the light to transition, from 15 minutes to 90 minutes. Like the Philips lights, there is no real perception of the ladder steps. It just appears that the light is slowly changing color and getting brighter. In terms of brightness, it maxes out at about the illumination level of a 60-watt bulb.
The Lumie doesn’t have a touch-screen and feels a bit more dated than the Philips in terms of its interface. Also, this clock is a 24-hour clock as opposed to a 12-hour clock, which some may find a distraction.
One major issue to understand with the Lumie is that you need to set the alarm each night. Once you have the wake-up time and settings programmed, this only involves one button press. But it’s still a pain point: you actively need to set it each night. And there’s no way to program in work days vs. days off. You just set the alarm before you go to sleep and it will go off the next morning. If you don’t want to wake up early, don’t set the alarm.
Once the alarm is set, the face and clock dim completely. If the alarm isn’t set, the display remains fairly bright. Many will find this irritating on those weekend nights when you don’t want the alarm to go off early.
You’ll find 6 alarm noises on the Bodyclock. These are birds, rooster, white noise, alarm beep, and waves. Additionally, there is an FM-Radio on the Lumie. Like the other FM Radios, it’s not super useful. There’s no aux input for audio to run through the speaker. And there’s no USB charger or phone connection here.
As with the other units on our list, the Lumie Bodyclock has a dusk simulation as well. It will gradually fade out in order to get you ready for sleep. You can trigger white noise to accompany this process, which is helpful. You can choose to keep the noise on all night, or have it fade with the light.
The Bottom Line
The Lumie Bodyclock works well, and is a good choice for a wake-up light. But in the end, it’s not as good as the Philips HF3520, though it’s often sold at a higher price point. The color transition isn’t quite as good, and the interface is awkward. Many find it annoying that you can’t turn the clock off unless you set the alarm, and end up having to put a towel or other object in front of the light to block out the light from the clock.
The way the Lumie projects its light is realy cool, but unless it’s on a strong sale, you’re probably better choosing one of the other models on this list.
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Another Option: Philips HF3500 Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock
Key Points at a Glance
- 200 Lux Sunrise Alarm Clock
- Color-Temperature changing LED display
- The only sound option is “gentle beeps”
- Sound cannot be disabled
- 90 Day Warranty
The Philips HF3500 rounds out or selection of dawn simulating alarms. This clock is yet another Philips clock and is designed in an attractive, unobtrusive way. It’s not quite as cool looking as the other Philips lights, but it is quite a bit cheaper.
When the HF3500 is running at maximum brightness, it can put out 200 Lux of light. This is similar to the LBell, but less than the other lights on our list. Still, it’s a brightness level a little bit less than a 60-watt bulb, so not bad.
Over a 30-minute time frame, the HF3500 goes from a deep red/orange color to a brilliant daylight white. There are only 10 transition levels on this light, compared to the 20+ on the higher-end Philips lights. Due to this, as the light grows in brilliance over the course of the morning, you’ll notice it more than on the higher-end Philips lamps.
That said, the transition isn’t bad, and if you keep it a few feet away rather than right on the nightstand, you probably won’t notice the transition steps.
What’s clearly missing here is the diversity of sounds. The only option for noise is “gentle beeps”. This seems to be a huge misstep and is the downfall of this light. Of course, Philips probably wants you to spend twice as much on the HF3520 instead of this one, so it’s limiting the features on this one to compensate.
What’s worse is that you can’t even disable the “gentle beeps” at all on this unit. Some people have resorted to stabbing the speaker with a screwdriver in order to permanently disable the beeps. Some find this method of silencing the HF3500 more effective.
It is ridiculous that buyers need to resort to this to get their alarm clock to where they want it to be.
The Bottom Line
The Philips HF3500 works pretty well as a dawn-simulating alarm clock, but the lack of sound and configuration options are a big issue. Given its price point, the HF3500 is clearly surpassed in quality by the LBell light discussed above. The LBell has more transition stages than the HF3500, and includes plenty of decent-quality calming noises to wake up to.
It seems fairly clear that Philips positioned this one to be entry level, and cut out enough features that people will spend the extra money for the higher-end models. If you’re really limited by price, go for the LBell. If you can spring for a little more coin, it may be worth jumping up to the HF3520.
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Conclusion: Best Dawn Simulator for SAD
As is clear from this list, Philips is the dominant player in the wake-up light market. Its high-end products are excellent. They feature cool aesthetics, great dawn simulation, and good build quality. They make the best dawn simulator clocks.
If you don’t want to go for a high-end Philips, then it’s best to jump to the LBell Wake-Up Light. This light is priced very competitively and works great. It has virtually all the same features as the higher-end Philips lights, but the light transitions aren’t quite as smooth as the Philips.
May your wake-ups be cheerful, from now on!