Sleeping safe and sound until you naturally wake up when the sun rises is a luxury not many have. For years and years on end a body-jolting alarm clock caused a disturbing end to my warm bed and sweet dreams too.
A wake up light, emitting light that progressively increases in intensity, changed that.
Not only did it put an end to setting three incessant alarm clocks in a row blaring in the middle of the night (so it seemed), it really helped improve my wellbeing during fall and winter.
Research shows that the healthiest way to wake up is along with the sun rising and the world gradually becoming lighter. And there’s the premise of a wake-up light alarm.
After all, still dazed yet frantically slamming that heartbeat skipping alarm clock is not exactly a very peaceful way to start your day.
Did you know that the sudden, harsh sound of the alarm can cause your body to go into the acute stress mode called fight or flight response pumping it full of adrenaline?
A wake up light guides you gently out of a deep sleep phase towards awakening. They work because your eyes register light exposure even when they are closed. Early in the morning when you are still asleep your biological clock senses low intensity light.
The gradual increase in light intensity tells your body the sun is coming up. As a result the pineal gland reduces the hormone melatonin that makes you sleepy and secretes the hormones cortisol and serotonin into your bloodstream. These play an essential role in waking you up.
Without the sun or a dawn simulating bedside lamp these processes only start after getting up leading to early morning crabbiness and all sorts of related symptoms of the winter blues.
- traditional alarm clocks only disturb your sleep in a jarring and stressful way (some people tend to wake up before their obnoxious alarm clock goes because their bodies make the stress hormone cortisol that anticipates the stress of waking up).
- Wake up lights gently wake you up providing you with more energy, productivity, and a better mood during the day.
Here are the 9 most popular wake up light alarm clocks:
Update May 8, 2017. Currently the best wake up light alarm clock are the same as those listed here when this post was published. No real new shifts in the market have occurred. No groundbreaking new innovations that have led to a better device. Which in itself isn’t too bad as the top models function perfectly well. A few minor usability aspects aside (toppling over, no complete dimming of the display) the Philips HF3520/01 is still the best wake up light you can buy. Scroll down to learn more.
BioBrite SunRise Clock Radio
The BioBrite has both a gradual sunset and gradual sunrise feature helping you fall asleep at night and get up in the dark morning. Some people find it really helpful to fall asleep with some background sounds on. This alarm light clock accomodates that preference because you can program the the radio fade out after a set time.
The Biobrite Sunrise Clock Radio can be somewhat daunting to program according to some users. You can set only one alarm time so you may need to reset it at the beginning and end of your weekend. It offers the choice between dusk and dawn cycles of 15, 30, 60, or 90 minutes. Other pros and cons:
- Incandescent bulb (60W)
- Only one alarm setting option
- Backup battery for settings (light does not work on battery but audible alarm does)
- Clock readability may become problematic when light is in full intensity
- LCD display fades to low level when you want to sleep
- Rather bulky
Lumie Body Clock Active 250
The Lumie Bodyclock was the first dawn simulator alarm made by a company that specializes in light therapy products. It resets your sleep/wake cycle and is claimed to help with SAD syndrome (Seasonal Affective Disorder), winter blues and other physical difficulties with waking and sleeping.
It can be used as a bedside lamp that shuts itself off after 90 minutes. It functions as a security light too. In security mode it automatically activates the light at random periods between 4pm and 11pm when nobody is at home
The Lumie lets you set sunsets and sunrises from 15 to 90 minutes. You have full control over the time period you want the light to slowly come up and how bright you want it to get.
- Display can be dimmed completely at night
- Class 1 certified medical device
- Wake up with 6 different sounds including radio, traditional alarm sound, or nature sounds such as rooster call and crashing waves
- You can set different volume levels for the radio alarm and for just playing the radio
- Doubles as a security light
- Rather bulky
- Not as pretty as some other light alarms
Philips Wake Up Light HF3520 (Recommended)
The Philips HF3520 let’s you wake up with light and slowly in volume increasing nature sounds which add to the gentle awakening experience. The seaguls for example that occasionally appeared in my dreams, were gradually guiding me towards being wakeful.
I like this wake up light a lot. It emits a pleasant warm glow and often really eases me awake if it were a sunny summer morning. I’m generally not into hyperbolical expressions and I’m not starting now either when I say this device has changed my life.
The ‘wintertime me’ transformed from a groggy, zombie-like individual to a more clear minded, optimistic person all with the help of Philips’ artificial sunrises.
I do have some minor issues though but these are merely details. The buttons aren’t visible from the front, they are behind the lamp itself, so you have to feel where they are in order to set an alarm or turn on the light. This took me a short while to get used to.
It’s nice that the Philips has rubber non-slip feet preventing you from sliding it from your nightstand. Since it’s round and has a relatively small base I do occasionally tip it over. It doesn’t fall from the nightstand but just rolls over.
Philips have done extensive research on waking up with artificial dawn simulators. This light increases from soft dawn reds through warm orange to bright yellow light 30 minutes before your set alarm time. Exactly the colors that have been found to be most conducive to waking up naturally.
- LED bulb (no need for replacement for 20 years)
- Light intensity: up to 300 Lux
- Nature sounds
- Scientifically proven to work
- Colored sunrise simulation
- Two separate alarms can be set
- Battery backup
- LCD display level can be set and fades when it becomes dark
Read its overwhelming positive reviews on Amazon.
Philips Hue wake up light feature
For a moment I have considered to get Philips Hue, the Wi-Fi-enabled LED lighting system, mainly for using it as a sleep timer but of course also for its cool other features.
It’s a serious contender since it makes use of the knowledge that your brain chemistry is affected in different ways by different wavelengths of light (they really know their optics at Philips) Appropriate light settings can influence your mental and physical wellbeing.
The standard accompanying Philips Hue smartphone app does not really cut it since, at wake up setting, the light starts to emit at 30% brightness which is too sudden. The iConnect Hue app is better geared towards using Hue as a sleep timer and alarm function. It does slowly raise and lower your lights for smooth nodding off or waking up.
- Can be used as normal lights that fade on before your alarm
- Not the most affordable option
- Controlled by smartphone app
Iwaku smart wake up light and SAD light box
This design light would fit right in a sleek minimalist condo. It wouldn’t suit ill in the bedroom of someone who craves multifunctionality either. In fact, you could say Iwaku is the Swiss army alarm clock among its competitor bedside wake up lamps.
Next to a wake up light, it’s a sleep cycle alarm clock, and SAD light box too.
Whether its versatility only has benefits remains to be seen. Clinicial trials show that blue light is best to energize and cheer people up who suffer from the winter blues (in SAD therapy).
Red light hues flowing over into warm yellow tones are utilized to optimally simulate the rising sun. At least that’s what my light does and it really feels like the sun is shining. Iwaku has a blue light. Does it perform less well, or better perhaps than other, dedicated dawn simulators because of this?
- LED bulb
- Blue light
- Not the smallest but has a stand allowing more space efficient placement
- Not compatible with all smartphones
More info about Iwaku.
Withings Aura Sleep Tracker Wake-up Light
Another multi-talented device, The Withings Aura Smart Sleep System is a true nightstand multitasker. The wake up light helps you wake up naturally based on your sleep cycles.
It comes with the Sleep Sensor that’s needs to be tucked under your mattress, an active light & sound Bedside Device, and a smartphone app. The device is designed to both monitor and improve sleep quality by tracking heart rates, breathing cycles and body movements.
- Bulb: multi-color LED
- Sunset lighting feature to let you doze off at night
- Lots of sleep sensing functions (and environmental sensory features later on)
- Compatible with a wide range of apps
- Not very well reviewed.
Learn more about Withings Aura Smart Sleep System
JBL Horizon alarm clock
This one is a versatile beast too. The new JBL Horizon is the latest additon to the various light up alarms on the market. The front is a speaker and – in case you were wondering- the light is in the back.
The Horizon streams your music via Bluetooth from your phone, tablet or laptop allowing you to wake up with your favorite music instead of the alarm sound or FM radio.
It features two fast-charging, indepently wired USB ports so it charges your devices and lets conveniently plug in your phone while you set the alarm before going to sleep. You can set two separate alarms so it’s basically useful for two people. Convenient if your spouse has to get up at another time than you.
Just like all these devices its ambient LED light gradually increases in intensity to wake you up gently. JBL is known for its excellent speaker quality so waking up with FM radio on your alarm clock will become a whole new experience.
The JBL Horizon has a lot of bells and whistles and if high quality of sound is important to you this wake up lamp may be your best bet. However, if the main feature you are looking for is mimicing sunrise, it remains to be seen if this wake up light performs as optimally as the Philips HF3520. We’ll know soon when more reviews are out.
- Bulb: LED
- Lets you set two separate alarms
- Superb JBL sound
- Gadget charger
More info on JBL.
Tabu LuMini smart bulb with wake up mode
Potentially great if you live in a tiny home or otherwise are really space constricted. The Tabu LuMini is an app-controlled, dimmable 16 million color mood light bulb. It can be used for parties but has a wake up setting as well.
The amply funded Kickstarter project resulted in innovative light bulbs that let you deem, change color, and control multiple bulbs at the same time. Among other features such as Call Alert, Music Sync, and Proximity at has a Wake Up Mode. The Wake Up Mode is not yet available on the Android app.
- Bulb: 400 lumen (equivalent to 40W)
- No beside table needed
- Not yet known how it performs as a wake up light
More info here.
Verilux Rise and Shine Natural Wake-up Light
The last one on the list does look a bit dated. Like the other wake up lights however the Verilux has a fall asleep mode, four nature sounds (spa soundscapes), and FM radio. Also as many others it can be used as a bedside lamp that simulates the sunset. This sleep cycle mode can be set to 5, 15, 30, and 60 minutes.
The Verilux Rise and Shine Alarm Clock and Sleep System has 20 different light settings. Here are some of its pros and cons.
- 60W clear incandescent bulb (can be replaced by a dimmable LED bulb)
- You have to set the sound level at 1 to prevent the audible alarm from switching on before the light is at full intensity. This seems somewhat counterintuitive.
- Programming the alarm clock can be difficult without the manual
- Some users dislike the light not increasing smoothly but in 20 steps.
- Some people hear a buzz produced by the bulb
- Display has two brightness settings and a blackout setting.
Some users complain that their wake up light wakes them up before they need to be up. Sometimes they are awake at the set time, other times they are woken earlier because of the light.
I have noticed this too however I do not find it a disadvantage. The benefits of the light alarm clock totally weigh up to this, what some people perceive as, disadvantage.
Not convinced a dawn simulating light alarm is for you? You should try one. It made a difference as day and night for me.
“It’s not natural to wake up in the dark. Our ancestors woke up at dawn. Whenever dawn came.” Dr. David Avery, sleep and light specialist, University of Washington
Which wake-up light is the best?
Obviously it depends on your personal needs but I always recommend people the Philips HF3520. I did a fair bit of research and all in all I think in comparison with the others it comes out best.
It may not be the most affordable but it has the best design and has the highest review ratings. On top of that, I can attest from using it myself that I wouldn’t want to do without it anymore.
If truly outstanding sound quality is important to you the JBL Horizon may be your best bet. Since it’s so new time will tell if its artificial dawn abilities are on par with the market leader.