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Is there a sound that makes you shudder because it reminds you of being jolted out of a deep sleep on countless cold, dark mornings? I have two: the infamous grating beep of OG alarm clocks and that first-ever default iPhone alarm sound that berated me into waking up for 9 a.m. classes in college. Thankfully, there is now a gentler solution: a sunrise alarm clock.
These days, we tend to use our phones for everything, which can be hugely convenient. If your handy smartphone provides a certain function, it can be a hard sell to invest in a separate product that serves the same purpose and takes up more space.
But if you’re a troubled sleeper or find it difficult to rise and shine, especially before sunrise, a light or sunrise alarm clock may be well worth the buy.
What are sunrise alarm clocks?
“The key thing that these alarm clocks try to mimic is direct sunlight exposure,” said Rebecca Robbins, an associate scientist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School. “They build on the circadian science that light is a vital input to our internal circadian rhythm.”
The part of our brain that guides our circadian rhythm, Robbins explained, is housed behind the eyeballs, making our eyes the receptors of light that kick-starts the awake phase of this 24-hour cycle.
That’s why exposing yourself to light in the morning, even if it’s only a simulation of the sun, will help trigger that alertness by suppressing the flow of the hormone melatonin from the pineal gland in the brain. (Darkness triggers melatonin release, while light can halt its production.)
These clocks can be especially helpful in certain regions of the world, at times of the year when hours of sunlight vary, or any time you need to artificially replicate sunrise and sunset to signal a proper sleep schedule. Your circadian rhythms can also respond to decreasing light at the end of the day, according to Dr. Raj Dasgupta of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. That means that a dimming function is another helpful component to have in a sunrise alarm clock because it can help you wind down for bedtime.
Which sunrise alarm clock is best?
When searching for the best sunrise alarm clock for you, the sunset option is key if, regardless of the season, you tend to have issues falling asleep as well as waking up. Robbins adds that warmer colors of light are a soothing effect for bedtime while cool, bright blue tones emulate sunshine for an alerting effect in the morning, so the availability of those varying shades is key. Though many of us tend to depend on a snooze button, the lack of one could actually be helpful if you’re looking to establish healthier sleep habits.
“With your first alarm, you’ve extracted likely from your best, most restorative stages of sleep,” she said. “The only sleep you’re getting after interrupting those really deep, rich stages is twilight sleep, which is the worst thing we can do.” (Twilight is stage 1 of non-REM sleep, which is a lighter stage where you can still have some awareness of what's happening around you.)
For those who go with a snooze option, Dr. Dasgupta advises keeping the alarm clock out of arm’s reach so that you have to get up to turn it off, which will encourage you to get out of bed instead of further delaying the start of your day. Since sleep preferences in general are quite individualized, he suggests looking for an alarm clock with adjustable features so that you can customize brightness and sound elements to your needs.
Do sunrise alarm clocks work?
Experts agree that while a wake-up light alone may not give you more restful nights, they can be helpful when used in conjunction with good sleep hygiene, which includes sleeping in a cool, dark room; using your bed only for sleeping (stimulus control); and sticking to set bedtimes and wake times.
Shelby Harris, a clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral sleep medicine, also notes that if you tend to bury your head under the covers or can’t resist repeated snooze sessions, this type of alarm clock may not be the right choice. It all depends on your ideal sleep environment and where your sleeping or waking issues are stemming from.
Sunrise alarm clocks and seasonal affective disorder
If you tend to struggle to get out of bed when you’re forced to wake up in complete darkness on winter mornings and you experience season-related mood changes in general, you may have seasonal affective disorder.
While anyone can have the “winter blues,” about 5% of people have seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as SAD or seasonal depression, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
SAD is a type of depression that’s most common in fall and winter months, when there are fewer hours of sunlight per day, although it can occur in summer in some people. People who have SAD experience symptoms for about 40% of the year, and it’s more common in women than men.
One common treatment is light therapy, which often comes in the form of a specific type of lamp.
“Light has a physiological direct impact on our mood,” which is why light therapy helps with seasonal depression, Robbins explained.
Since many of these sunrise alarm clocks have adjustable brightness settings, it makes sense that they could also help with some symptoms of SAD.
That said, light therapy for SAD treatment usually involves 20 to 30 minutes of direct exposure to a lightbox with a brightness of 10,000 lux each morning or a lightbox with a brightness of 2,500 lux for one to two hours.
Sunrise alarm clocks tend to have a lux that’s 300 or lower. While gradual light from an alarm clock might help improve your mood and ability to wake up, follow your healthcare provider’s guidance for any light-related treatments if you’ve been diagnosed with SAD.
Sunrise alarm clocks and insomnia
When Dr. Dasgupta thinks about alarm clocks or any other device that’s supposed to help you get good sleep, he thinks of one patient population in particular — those with insomnia. While almost everyone experiences an inability to sleep at some point, he’s referring to those with chronic insomnia, which the American Academy of Sleep Medicine defines as having symptoms more than three times per week for up to three months.
Insomnia generally involves difficulty initiating sleep and maintaining sleep throughout the night. While he emphasizes that the mainstay therapy for these issues is cognitive behavioral therapy, sunrise alarm clocks are among the sleep products that may help.
“You have to have all the right pieces to complete that puzzle to get that good sleep,” he said. “When people try different things to get good sleep, it really depends on what puzzle piece is missing.”
For some, that missing piece may be the comfort of a weighted blanket. For others, a white noise machine may do the trick. But if you’re sensitive to light and creating faux dawn sounds like a nicer way to wake than jarring beeps and jingles, it’s well worth trying out one of the clocks on this list.
Hatch may be the biggest name in sunrise alarm clocks, and for good reason. Though the Hatch Restore comes at a higher price point than some other options, it’s also one of the more aesthetically pleasing, customizable, and multifunctional light-up clocks to keep by your bed. Harris, who wrote The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia, personally likes a clock that has a white noise component, allows you to choose the intensity of light, and can be set using your phone. The Hatch Restore satisfies those requirements and lets you fully personalize your sleep-to-wake routine with a variety of lights and sounds, all of which can be controlled in the app or with soft-touch buttons on the device.
Promising review: “Loved the simple design. So many features rolled into one. Looks great. Helped me sleep so much better on the very first night. The sunrise alarm is such a peaceful way to wake up and the sounds included are exactly what I was looking for.” —Amazon customer
What else to consider: This clock doesn’t have a snooze button and is quite reliant on the app to control, meaning a reliable Wi-Fi connection is a must. It also must be plugged in to use, so it’s best if you plan on keeping it by your bed, and it doesn’t have a USB port for phone charging.
Best for: people who care about design and are willing to invest a bit more in their sleep hygiene. It’s also great for those trying to break free of the snooze button and anyone who enjoys a wide variety of white noise in their alarm clock.
You can get the Hatch Restore at Hatch for around $130.
Another great option for a little bit less is this Philips Wake-Up Light. It helps you wake up easily and with more energy and can improve your morning mood, according to the company. There are 20 light intensities to personalize the brightness, five natural sounds, and sunset as well as sunrise simulations to prepare your body for waking or sleeping by gradually changing the light levels. It does have a tap-to-snooze feature if that’s important to you, though the experts advise against snoozing.
Promising review: “I live in Minneapolis where it gets dark very early in the winter and is usually dark when I wake up for work. After the time change this year, I noticed that my depression and willingness to get out of bed went out the door. While I manage my SAD and depression very well, I had heard of these types of lamps and got this one as it was recommended by a friend. I’m not kidding - I have felt better every morning when I wake up because of it. It very gently starts the ‘sunrise’ effect so that you may notice it gently which simulates the summer sunrise. I did start using the beach noise option but my cats thought there were seagulls in my bedroom (lol) so now I use the radio and the volume of the radio gradually increases with the light. The other nature sounds are also very tame and not obnoxious. My overall mood has increased ten-fold.” —Courtney H.
What else to consider: Some customers note that the controls can be difficult and that it can be hard to find the button you’re looking for, especially when you’re trying to turn off the alarm. The brightness levels are not drastically different, so if you want something that will dim to complete darkness, it may not be the one for you.
Best for: those who appreciate seriously bright light in an orb shape that somewhat resembles the sun and has an aesthetically pleasing design.
You can get the Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light at Amazon for around $100.
Similar to the Philips version but even more affordable, this wake-up light gets rave reviews. Not only is the brightness adjustable, but you can also choose from seven different colors, ranging from cool to warm. The sunrise simulation setting increases from 10% to 100% over your chosen time period (anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes) and can be accompanied by one of the seven natural sound options. There’s also a snooze button and a reading light setting in case you like to wind down at night with a good book.
Promising review: “I spent a couple weeks looking at different sunrise simulation alarm clocks before deciding to purchase this one and I am so glad I did. The instructions were detailed and very easy to follow, the clock itself has a ton of features (max brightness, alarm sound, alarm volume, time it takes to get to full brightness, different colors, night mode, snooze), and it has worked perfectly since I have received it. It has made waking up so much nicer as I am one to easily oversleep and wake up upset to my loud alarms. I’ve been telling my friends and family about it - 10/10 recommend.” —Kim
What else to consider: Reviewers appreciated that you can completely turn off the alarm digits and display, though some had a hard time setting the FM radio function and dealing with the physical controls, similar to the button design on the Philips SmartSleep.
Best for: anyone who needs absolute darkness to fall asleep and/or wants to try out a quality sunrise alarm clock at a lower price point.
You can get the Jall Wake-Up Light at Amazon for around $50.
You may know Casper for its mattresses, but the company has now expanded into the whole universe of sleep products, including this glow light. You can use it with or without the Casper Glow app, which allows you to set your sleep and wake times and customize several other settings on your phone. It lulls you to sleep with a slowly dimming warm light and gently wakes you with soft light in the morning. You can flip it to turn the light on and off, twist it to adjust the brightness, and wiggle it if you need a low glow to guide you to the bathroom. That’s right — it sits on a wireless charging station, and you can pick it up and use it as a portable lantern to navigate your home at night. If you’re looking for something wireless and sleek without too many bells and whistles, this may be the sunrise alarm clock for you.
Promising review: “My Glow lights have literally changed my life. I’m a night shift nurse. The time change is always a struggle because I feel like I never see the sun. I’m constantly sleepy and fatigued. It’s so hard for me to wake up in the evening/late afternoon when my room is so dark. Enter Glow. The gentle wake-up timer is so nice. It gives my body a nudge to start waking up without being jolted by an alarm. And because my room slowly gets brighter I don’t have that inclination to just hit snooze and go back to sleep! I am super satisfied with these little guys. They are also just nice lights for when I’m chilling on my nights off and I’m up late. 10/10 would recommend.” —Erica
What else to consider: Though customers rave about the gentleness of the sleep and wake settings, that also means the light never gets super bright and there aren’t any sound settings, so it may not be the best choice if you’re a very heavy sleeper or want to wake up to chirping birds. There’s also no clock on the device, so you’d need to rely on your phone or another device.
Best for: someone who values a warm and gentle glow to ease into and out of restful sleep, could use a light that’s portable and easy to use, and doesn’t need an actual clock.
You can get the Casper Glow Light at Casper for around $130.
With 14 specially designed light therapy programs, 16 soothing nature or white noise recordings, and full-spectrum LED color-changing modes, this sleep therapy machine is ideal to relax and ease anxiety at any time of the day. Of course, it has gradual sleep and wake features that you can customize with the light and sound of your choice, but it can also come in handy whenever you need to unwind. It connects to Bluetooth for wireless audio streaming of your favorite podcasts or songs in case that’s what you’d prefer to lull you to sleep.
Promising review: “I bought this product so I can use an alarm clock instead of using my phone. I really love the nature sounds on it and all the features, helps me unwind and relax. I love how I can set the alarm to a nature sound instead of a stressful alarm sound. I can’t speak for the light therapy, but the colors are very soothing. Also love how you can dim the brightness of the time or turn the time off completely (your alarm will still go off in the morning).” —Cristina
What else to consider: This clock features tons of settings, which can be a great thing but also makes it confusing for some to set properly and figure out the controls.
Best for: anyone in the market for a small but mighty sunrise alarm clock with superior sound quality and functionality.
You can get the iHome Zenergy Dream Mini Bedside Sleep Therapy Machine at Amazon for around $130.
If you’re looking for a sunrise alarm clock with an extremely gradual sunrise for the gentlest way to wake you up, this one can start emitting light up to 60 minutes before your chosen wake-up time. To ease you into sleep, it can steadily dim to darkness for up to 120 minutes. It offers many natural sounds with adjustable volume and 20 levels of brightness. The clock display is also dimmable, and there’s a power bank to charge your devices while you sleep.
Promising review: “I purchased this item for my 2 year old that hasn’t slept through a single night since he was born. I have tried almost everything to get him to sleep through the night and so far nothing has worked. It took him a couple of nights to get used to this lamp but he has been sleeping through the night almost a week now. I love the fact that this lamp has white noise that calms him at night and the fact that the light strength is adjustable. It also has an alarm clock as well as Auto Dim as the night progresses.” —Dennis
What else to consider: It’s not the most sturdy clock on the list, so if you tend to smack the snooze button with the brute force of a bear emerging from hibernation, you’ll probably knock it over.
Best for: those who want something similar to the Philips SmartSleep but for less.
You can get the Te-Rich Sunrise Alarm Clock at Amazon for around $40.
This touch-controlled, dimmable bedside lamp is an alarm clock with a sunrise simulation that could also make a great nightlight for kids. There are five natural sound options, a snooze function, a USB charging port on the back, and over 200 shades of color from warm to bright and cool, which can be adjusted by simply tapping the touch sensor on top. The light slowly builds in brightness and transitions from warm and comforting to bright and alert starting 30 minutes before the set wake-up time.
Promising review: “I got this light for my husband because he's a shift worker. I have read these wake up lights will help you wake up and go to sleep in a more healthy way. He’s tried it for a few days now with both the warm white and the RGB lights as well as all the alarm sounds, we’ve already noticed a difference in his sleeping habits! Being able to wake up to natural light at 3 o’clock in the morning has been a real blessing. I only wish I would have purchased this sooner.” —Anne
What else to consider: While the sunrise setting does allow the light to gradually increase over 30 minutes, some customers felt that it was already bright enough to keep them awake 10 minutes in. It may not be the best-quality sunrise light you’ll find, but it’s a great value for the price.
Best for: first-time sunrise alarm clock buyers who aren’t looking to make a huge investment and love touchscreen controls.
You can get the Elfeland Alarm Clock Sunrise Light at Walmart for about $30.
Bluetooth connectivity for under $40 makes this a more affordable light-up alarm clock for those who prefer to choose from their own audio library for their sleeping and rising soundtracks. There are five colorful light modes, four brightness levels, a night-mode setting, and customizable lighting time, brightness, and alarm volume for when you wake up.
Promising review: “Perfect gift for my daughter..the Bluetooth function is great, the display colors are cool, it’s the perfect bedside alarm/light/Bluetooth speaker … would highly recommend.” —Rekha N. Williams
What else to consider: The display numbers and light in general are quite bright and do not turn off completely. Many reviewers mentioned that the instructions can be hard to follow — but once you get it going, it’s a breeze.
Best for: heavy sleepers who won’t be bothered by a bit of persistent light, and anyone who’s into disco ball–like color-changing effects.
You can get the Tiyoon Wake Up Light at Amazon for about $35.
The Dekala Sunrise Alarm Clock comes in two styles: one with a solid base and the other with a two-pronged holder. You can start your sunrise simulation anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes before your set wake-up time, starting with a soothing red-tinted light and evolving into a bright and cool tone to increase alertness. There are seven colors and 20 levels of brightness to switch between, with seven natural alarm sounds and 16 adjustable volume settings. There’s also a snooze function and a USB charging port, so basically everything you could need to wake up at your preferred pace.
Promising review: “This clock is great! We use it as an ‘ok to wake’ clock for my 3 year old. It’s plugged in like a normal alarm clock, not battery powered, although it has a battery backup in case the power goes out. The sunrise and sunset functions are great and fully adjustable. It can have sound or no sound, it can have light or no light. It’s the all around most functional alarm clock I could find. I love it so much I’m going to get another one for my son for when he transitions into his toddler bed.” —C&C’s Mom
What else to consider: Some people find the sounds to be too short and repetitive, and there seems to be a bit of a learning curve when it comes to figuring out the controls.
Best for: those who want a smaller and more affordable option with tons of customizable features.
You can get the Dekala Sunrise Alarm Clock at Amazon for about $40.
Though there aren’t quite as many adjustable functions in this sunrise alarm clock, it remains a fan and reviewer favorite. It uses warm LED light to wake you up gently over a 30-minute period and dims for sunset simulation that can also serve as a nightlight. There are eight colored light options and several soothing nature-inspired sounds to accompany them. It’s quite compact, which makes it a good choice for a bedside table with limited space, and it has all the essential features to wake up and wind down easily.
Promising review: “We love the sunrise alarm clock. We have it in our son's room as a cue when he can get out of bed. On days he doesn’t get up before the light it offers an ease into the day. It’s a great amount of light to mimic the sunrise especially with the days getting shorter. The base is sturdy and the snooze button is easy to hit. Lots of features on this alarm clock. I would recommend this for everyday use and for kids to learn when it's time to get out of bed.” —Johanna Ruiz
What else to consider: Some reviewers were disappointed in the quality, while others felt that it got the job done, so this one may be a bit of a risk depending on your experience with sunrise alarm clocks and the amount of functionality you’re looking for.
Best for: anyone who wants bright multicolor and dimming capabilities but doesn’t have too many other demands from their clock.
You can get the HomeLabs Sunrise Alarm Clock at Amazon for about $40.