Waking up is hard to do-o.
For those who have to get up before the sunrise, it’s even harder. And with all the artificial light from phones, computers, and tablets that most of us put ourselves through by choice or necessity, you might think our brains don’t even know when to sleep and when to be awake anymore.
Sunrise alarm clocks are nifty bedside buddies that use natural-looking light and sometimes sound to slowly lure you out of sleep.
But do sunrise alarm clocks work? Do they really trick your body into believing it’s waking up at an appropriate time, providing authentic energy for a more productive day?
Wake-up lights have been around for decades. They have increased in popularity over the last several years, intriguing many early risers who dread the sound of a traditional alarm. These alarm clocks promise to provide a more natural experience of waking up to those who need to rise before the sun comes up.
In this article, I will look closely at whether sunrise alarm clocks, also known as wake-up lights and dawn simulators, work to improve sleep. Do they make it easier to wake up, and do you feel more refreshed when you wake up?
Do Sunrise Alarm Clocks Work?
The answer is yes, wake-up lights help ease you into wakefulness, and prevent you from hitting the snooze button for the 20th time. At least, the higher-quality units that have lights that change in color temperature do work.
For more on this, see below.
Sleep and the Sun
We know that humans, in general, need to sleep at night and be awake during the day. Some people tilt a little bit toward being night owls, and some are early-birds. But the circadian rhythms of the human body tend to win out over these minor fluctuations. We evolved under the sun and sky, and our wakefulness is inextricably tied to the quantity and quality of light available.
But our modern lifestyles shake that story up a little, or maybe a lot! The sun no longer controls our schedule. Early school bells, commutes, and a variety of jobs and shifts mean that many people are already arriving at school or work by the time the sun is up.
We also have demanding loads of work at home and other commitments that keep us awake long after the sunset. And of course, we have a major habit of blasting our eyes with light from our phones, TVs, and computers well into the night.
Our modern lifestyles go against the way we have evolved, and the result of this is that we get poorer and poorer sleep. Most jobs and schedules don’t shift according to the seasons or for daylight savings time.
Instead, we just continue on with the same patterns even when during winter in the north when it might be dark outside before the end of the workday.
The invention of the lightbulb 150 years ago made this possible and that’s great! But our sleep has been getting worse and worse with the spread of illumination technology and screens all around the house, especially into the bedroom.
As we sleep, we rely on different hormones and neurotransmitters than when we are awake, and when we are shocked awake mid-sleep cycle by the obnoxious ring of an alarm, our bodies have to try to adjust very quickly.
Part of the Solution
The National Institute of Health (NIH) emphasizes light as one of the most important aspects of healthy sleep. This refers to daylight, but also to the importance of darkness during sleep. Different people need different amounts of sleep, but everyone benefits from the ability to get deep, consistent sleep, which is enhanced by natural light or the lack thereof.
The NIH actually encourages the use of smart technology in aiding in smarter sleep. And sunrise alarms are a great smart gadget to take advantage of. You can read more about the science of healthy sleep at ninds.nih.gov.
Dawn Simulator Choices
If you decide to give wake-up alarms a try, there are many to choose from. Some mimic not only sunrise but sunset too, which could serve as an indication that it’s time to put away phones and last-minute work in order to wind down for sleep.
Others have built-in sound alarms to go with the light show for those who still prefer to wake up to music. And of course, some wake-up lights have radios, as well.
These alarm clock lines span a wide array of price points and quality levels, but you’ll generally want to skip most units that are under $50. Be sure to choose a unit with a light that changes its color temperature as it progresses through the wake-up cycle. These units are much more realistic than the ones that don’t change color temperature.
One thing to note is that if you have a bed partner or a roommate with a different schedule, you may run into a conflict as to when to trigger the light to wake you up. Of course, this is the case with virtually any alarm clock.
Should You Give A Wake-Up Light A Try?
In the end, the most important thing you can do for your sleep health is to get consistent sleep — and enough of it.
Limiting screen time is also crucial, especially before bed (easier said than done for all of us, surely). For more information on how to get really good sleep, be sure to check out Sleep Researcher Dr. Matthew Walker’s wonderful book “Why We Sleep“.
Additionally, if you’ve been doing this wake-up-every-morning thing for your whole life but you’re still a chronic snoozer, a dawn-simulating wake-up alarm is almost certainly better than whatever loud, obnoxious blare or vibration comes with your phone or old bedside radio.
There are plenty of choices on the market, and you really can’t put a price on good sleep.
As for me, these lights are a great way to help ease me into wakefulness. But I’d love to see one that has a coffee maker built-in as well!