- Sunrise alarm clocks use light and natural sounds to help you fall asleep and wake up more gently the next morning.
- I tested seven sunrise alarm clocks, consulted two doctors, and relied on my own background in sleep research to determine the best ones.
- The Philips Smartsleep Connected is the best sunrise alarm clock because it has tons of customization options for both waking up and falling asleep, and it analyzes your bedroom conditions to help you make improvements to your sleep environment.
If you've ever woken up to a traditional alarm clock, you know that a blaring alarm early in the morning can be quite jarring. Sunrise alarm clocks (sometimes called wake-up lamps) simulate a natural and gradual sunrise with a range of soft orange and yellow LED lights for a gentler wake up experience. The simulated natural light from these devices can purportedly help with your mental health, too. Many wake-up lamps combine light therapy with sound meditation and breathing techniques to create a more calming sleep environment and help regulate circadian rhythms — the natural ebb and flow of hormones that tell us when to go to sleep and when to wake up.
Dr. Alex Dimitriu, founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine, told us that the gentle stimulus from sunrise alarm clocks starts getting the body out of deeper sleep stages, and closer to wakefulness. "Whether it's a gradual sound or light alarm, wake-up lamps can help better prepare the body to wake up more gently, with less startle," Dimitriu said.
Sunrise alarm clocks can also help reduce the effects of sleep inertia, that drowsy, disorienting feeling that a lot of us experience after abruptly waking up. "Sudden awakenings can lead to sudden changes in cortisol and other neurotransmitters that could cause problems," said Dr. William Winter of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine. "Waking up with a gradual increase in wake-promoting light makes a lot of sense," Winter said, which is why sunrise alarm clocks might be a better option than regular alarm clocks.
In addition to consulting two experts, I leaned heavily on my own experience in sleep science for this guide. I previously managed a sleep laboratory for two years and continue to contribute to sleep research. I've presented some of my research at Eastern Psychological Association and have tested products for SleepScore Labs. Given my research background, I think it's important that any new product you bring into your sleep routine be backed by research. That's why I tested seven sunrise alarm clocks, using each for three consecutive days and nights to evaluate how effective, easy use, and durable they are. You can read more about how we tested here.
Here are the best sunrise alarm clocks:
- Best sunrise alarm clock overall: Philips Smartsleep Connected
- Best mid-priced sunrise alarm clock: Hatch Restore
- Best sunrise alarm clock on a budget: iHome Zenergy
- Best portable sunrise alarm clock: Casper Glow Light
- Best sunrise alarm clock with all manual controls: Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Update, 11/23/2020: We completely overhauled this guide with hands-on testing, original photos, and new picks.
The best sunrise alarm clock overall
The Philips Smartsleep Connected can help you fall asleep gently and wake up on time with stunning sunset and sunrise simulations. It monitors your sleep environment and provides recommendations to improve it.
Pros: Smartphone connected; allows you to customize duration, color, sound, and intensity of wake-up and wind-down programs; makes recommendations for improving sleep environment; can set up to 16 alarms
Cons: Occupies a lot of space on nightstand, does not play music via Bluetooth, not a good option for those who prefer manual controls
The Philips Smartsleep Connected is a relatively large sunrise lamp that sort of resembles a glowing donut. At about nine inches wide, it takes up a quarter of my 18 inch by 12 inch bedside table. While the device is fairly large, you can place it anywhere in your room because you control almost everything from your phone via the Philips SleepMapper app, which you can download from the Apple App Store or Google Play.
The app allows you to set up and customize "wind-down" and "wake-up" profiles with your preferred sound, light intensity, and duration, and I found it very easy and intuitive to use. The stunning sunset simulation was one of my favorite features: the brightness gradually decreases from beautiful hues of bright yellows to soft reds, and is accompanied by natural relaxing sounds that fade away with the sunset simulation. Your personal sunset can last anywhere from five minutes to an hour and you can choose from four color schemes with inviting names such as "Caribbean red" and "Nordic white," and four nighttime ambient sounds like "soft rain," "summer lake," or even your preferred FM radio station. I also found the meditation program, called RelaxBreathe, a valuable tool for building better sleep practices. This guided meditation walks you through deep breathing and can be customized by changing the pace anywhere from four breaths per minute to 10 breaths per minute.
After setting up the Smartsleep and playing with the controls and features, I found my personal preferences. I woke up to "summer birds," one of the eight gentle morning sounds that gradually increase in volume over several minutes, and an "island red" sunrise with warm red and orange lights that distributed nicely throughout the bedroom. The combination made me feel like I was on vacation. You can also set up to 16 alarms; a useful option for people who tend to hit the snooze button more than once.
Obviously, Philips designers had the single intention of improving sleep quality when creating this device. The technology has been backed by research: in a 2010 study, participants reported easier rising; better mood, productivity, and quality of social interaction; and reduced sleep inertia after using Philips sunrise lamps. Philips' "Ambitrack" technology is built into the device to track sleep habits and calculate bedroom conditions including temperature, humidity, light, and sound levels. The app recommends the ideal conditions for best sleep quality and lets you know if your bedroom is too hot, humid, bright, or loud for optimal sleep. The app also offers instructions and tips on how to take full advantage of the device's features.
There were also a number of small features I appreciated. If you wake up in the middle of the night, you can tap the top of the device to activate a dim light instead of turning on an overhead light or using your phone's flashlight. In case of a power outage, the internal clock and back up alarm remain active for at least eight hours, so you won't miss your wake up call. The device also includes an integrated USB charging dock for your devices, an AUX cord to play music from your phone, and a bright reading light. Unfortunately, you can't wake up to music from your phone or anything else connected through the AUX cord, and it does not play music via Bluetooth.
In all, I loved falling asleep and waking up with this sunrise alarm clock, and its customization and user friendly app make it the best choice if you're investing in one of these wake-up devices.
The best mid-priced sunrise alarm clock
The Hatch Restore has the most light options and sleep sounds of any model we tried and they're all fully controlled through its multifunctional Hatch Sleep app.
Pros: More than 30 sound options and 20 light options to choose from, guided meditations, fully personalized sleep and wake-up routines through the app
Cons: Not a good option if you don't like to rely on an app, doesn't play music, guided meditations only available with subscription, must be connected to Wi-Fi to use
The Hatch Restore sunrise alarm clock connects via Bluetooth to your phone and, with the free smartphone app (available on the Apple App Store and on Google Play), you can set your personalized bedtime routine and more than 18 alarms. Setting up the Hatch is easy even though it doesn't come with traditional instructions. Instead, the box contains a small card with a link to the instructions online. There are so many features to choose from, including a bedside reading light, guided meditations, sleep stories, wind-down profiles, and sleep routines; all of which are fully customizable. It has more than 30 soothing sleep sounds and many more light therapy options than any of the products we tried, including nighttime shades, warm oranges, and soft relaxing pastels, which I loved while listening to meditations. What's great about the Hatch is that users can fully personalize every part of their sleep schedule according to their preferences; you can add up to 10 steps to create a routine to fall asleep.
My routine consisted of three simple steps. First, I got into bed and read my book using the coral nighttime light for 30 minutes while listening to the "sea wind" sound. Then I wound down with a soft pink light and the "meeting sleep with ease" meditation. Finally, I fell asleep to an orange light and the sound of rain. You can also set how long each step is. I was concerned about the digital clock display being too bright during the night, but you're able to turn it off completely or set it so that it will turn off by itself at your preferred time — a great feature for total darkness that also contributes to a good sleep environment. I also really enjoyed the variety of the guided meditations, which include breathing techniques, body scans, and relaxing sleep affirmations. The Hatch is well-designed with a nice half-moon shape that simulates a natural sunrise and, at 7.5 inches long, it didn't take up too much of my nightstand. It's a good device with a lot of light and sound options to create your own sleep routines.
Unlike some sunrise alarm clocks, the Hatch does require users to download the app and to have a stable Wi-Fi connection in order to use the device; without either, it's basically useless. All its features are controlled through the Hatch Sleep app, but the device itself includes a few soft-touch buttons for volume and brightness. Unfortunately, many of the guided sleep meditations can only be accessed by subscribing for $49.99 a year or $4.99 a month (though the first six months are free). Another thing to note is that the device doesn't immediately connect to your smartphone every time you open its companion app; it usually takes a few seconds to connect. I personally did not have an issue waiting five seconds for the app to open but other users might find it annoying. It also does not play music or radio.
The best sunrise alarm clock on a budget
The iHome Zenergy Dream Mini produces a soft sunrise and will gradually wake you up with your favorite song. For the price, it's packed with a lot of features that will help you wake up in a better mood.
Pros: Lots of customizable options, pairs with Bluetooth to play music from your phone, won't take up too much space on your nightstand
Cons: The light intensity might be too low for some, most functions cannot be controlled through a smartphone, only two alarms
The iHome Zenergy Dream Mini is a tiny sleep therapy machine packed with tons of features and customizable options. The instructions include really useful tips on how to properly meditate with the device and a brief section on the importance of maintaining good circadian rhythms.
What I love about the Zenergy Dream Mini is the option to wake up to my own Spotify playlist; a feature that other wake-up lamps I tested lack. The mini device paired up quickly and smoothly with my iPhone every single time with no issues, and I was able to wake up to a gentle simulated sunrise and my favorite song. The sound quality is honestly pretty good for such a small device. However, even though you can choose and play your music through Bluetooth, this device does not have an accompanying app, so you can't control any other features with your smartphone.
Instead, you control most of its functionality through 15 buttons on the top of the device. It has a lot of options that have to be set up manually but the instructions are helpful and the settings are fairly easy to navigate. The time also has to be set up manually but will purportedly adjust during daylight saving time automatically, and the built-in battery maintains the time and alarm settings in the event of a power outage. One of its key features is the "ZENERGY" button, which activates calming sounds accompanied by gentle, colorful lights. It is customizable with the "fall asleep" and "stay asleep" buttons, which let you choose from a nice selection of sound and light options including a guided breathing meditation, 13 relaxing sounds, and nine calming light therapy cycles. My favorite is the "heart" sound because it promotes steady breathing patterns and pairs well with the "breath" light color therapy.
The snooze button is large and strategically placed in front of all the buttons, so I didn't have to struggle to hit snooze in the morning. However, you can only set two alarms and snooze only lasts up to nine minutes. The light from this mini device might also be too soft for some individuals who need brighter hues in order to wake up. Still, this sunrise alarm clock is priced much lower than other options and offers great functionality if you're just starting to dabble in light therapy.
The best portable sunrise alarm clock
The Casper Glow Light is uniquely designed as a wireless, portable night light, and uses intuitive gestures and a streamlined design to create a beautiful and simple experience.
Pros: Beautiful warm lights, portable, pairs with multiple Glow Lights for a bedroom light show, intuitive and easy to operate with simple gestures
Cons: Lacks sound, requires smartphone app for expanded features like setting sleep and wake times
Casper Glow Light is a small portable cylinder that can be easily controlled with just a few gestures: flip to turn on, rotate to increase and decrease the amount of light, and wiggle to turn on the night light. The device is super simple; it's small, softly lit, and smartly designed with gentle, warm hues of light for better sleep. The controls work in either direction, so it doesn't matter if the device is upside down or right side up. The movement sensors are pretty intuitive, and it has a grippy rubber bottom to help it stay in place on flat surfaces.
The light charges wirelessly, quickly, and pairs with an app that is also very simple to use. While you can operate the light without having to connect it to your mobile device, the app (available on the Apple App Store and on Google Play) is a must if you want to set wake-up and wind-down times, which cue a sunset or sunrise light show that can last from 15 to 90 minutes.
One of the unique features of the Glow Light is that it synchronizes with other Glow Lights to make pretty light shows. Once you have more than one Glow Light you can name each and "group" or "ungroup" them through the app. I used two lights together and found they set a very tranquil mood in the room.
The night light feature is very useful for when you wake up in the middle of the night and want to avoid turning on bright, harsh lights that could disrupt melatonin levels and the ability to fall back to sleep. The light was easy and fun to carry around during the night when I went on a mission downstairs to get a glass of water. I didn't worry about dropping it or knocking it over because it's intentionally made with polycarbonate to resist bumps and endure falls.
Falling asleep with my pair of Glow Lights was such a treat. The soft, warm lights create a tranquil sleep environment, gradually dim to slowly relax you, and then turn completely off for total darkness. The Casper Glow Lights are made with high-quality warm LEDs that were effective in waking me up gently. However, the device focuses solely on effective light therapy and, unlike other models we tested, it completely excludes sound therapy. The light was purposefully designed without sounds, so it might not be the best option for heavy sleepers who require some noise to wake up; you'll still need to set a phone alarm if you really need a rise out of bed. That said, it's a beautiful device that makes for a very tranquil bedroom environment.
The best sunrise alarm clock with all manual controls
The Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light has a unique spherical design that creates a beautiful sunrise simulation, and features many of the same premium settings as the more expensive Philips Smartsleep Connected.
Pros: Creates the best sunrise simulation, very user-friendly and simple, fully manual
Cons: Very limited sound options, doesn't have an app if you're someone who prefers a connected device
A less expensive option from Philips, the Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light has fewer customizable options and features than the Philips Smartsleep Connected and is completely manual; no app needed. I recommend this one if you're looking for something simple, but still high-quality and efficient. It's one of Philips' best selling sunrise alarm clocks because of its impressive colored sunrise simulations and relaxing sunsets.
I had no problem setting the time and alarms with the easy-to-follow instructions. Falling asleep to this lamp was very relaxing; the sunset simulation therapy works just as well as the Philips Smartsleep Connected and the display automatically dims as the room gets darker, great for cocooning yourself in total darkness. Waking up with this lamp was such a pleasant experience; the gradual and natural sunrise simulation increased in the span of 30 minutes until it completely flooded my bedroom with beautiful, rich, orange and yellow lights and the gentle sounds of "Nepal bowls." You can choose from five different natural wake-up sounds including beautiful "birds" and "ocean waves," or your preferred FM radio station. The snooze feature is unique: a single slight tap anywhere on the device snoozes the lamp for nine minutes.
It's also one of Philips' sunrise alarm clocks that is clinically proven to help you feel more ready for the day, and I have to admit that it did a great job at waking me up feeling refreshed in the morning. I personally prefer this Philips model's smooth, spherical shape and smaller size over the Philips Smartsleep Connected, although I wish it connected to the app for more customization. I missed the extra features in the Philips Sleepmapper app when I used this model, like the sleep environment monitoring and extended customization. I hope Philips comes out with a new sunrise alarm clock that features all of the Philips Smartsleep Connected options but is shaped like this model to simulate that beautiful, natural sunrise.
What we don't recommend
I tested seven sunrise alarm clocks as part of this guide and unfortunately, some didn't make the cut. Here are the products we don't recommend.
Lumie Bodyclock Shine 300 ($159.00): The Lumie Bodyclock Shine 300 doesn't connect to an app and setting it up manually took me multiple tries and many minutes, as it comes with a set of lengthy, non-intuitive instructions that involve a lot of clicking around on the device. The daily alarm has to be turned on manually every single night before going to bed; if you fall asleep before you do, you're out of luck for your morning alarm. The sound options are interesting, to say the least. I chose to wake up to "kittens purring" because the other options were not exactly what I would prefer waking up to; for example, there was "ping-pong," "steam train," "goats," and "café," among the 15 odd sounds. Made by a British company, the device only provides a 24-hour clock, which is somewhat inconvenient if you're used to a 12-hour clock. That being said, the device and its lights do simulate a nice sunset and sunrise. The light progression is smooth and it has gentle levels of brightness. Although it has a lot of customizable options, they can be quite frustrating to set up.
AMTOK Smart Wake Up Light ($45.99): I was excited to try this smart sunrise alarm clock because of its voice control function. However, setting it up was so complicated and time-consuming that I quickly got discouraged. First, it comes with two sets of instructions with different information on how to connect the device to your phone, but neither appeared to be up-to-date to the model I was testing. Second, it only supports 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi networks, which transmit data at lower speeds and are prone to interference; likely why it failed to wake me up in the morning on multiple occasions. While the device has features that you can control through the app, they're very limited; just a few sound and light options. The color loop option is nice but I found its light intensity somewhat dull and not very relaxing. It's a device that you have to learn to get used to — if you have the patience.
In addition to interviewing sleep experts Dr. Alex Dimitriu, founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine, and Dr. William Winter of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine, I did hands-on testing with seven different sunrise alarm clocks. As a sleep researcher who managed a sleep lab for two years, part of my research involved investigating strategies to reduce sleep inertia (like using sunrise alarm clocks), so I also relied on my own background in sleep research and product testing to evaluate each product over several nights. I tested each sunrise alarm clock according to the following criteria:
Setup: For each of the lamps, I paid close attention to how difficult or easy it was to set up on my nightstand. I noted how accurate and helpful their instructions were and what it was like to set the time and alarms. I also evaluated how heavy they were and how much space they occupied on my bedside table.
Performance: I used each wake-up lamp for a minimum of three consecutive days and nights to get used to the routine and noted whether or not they woke me up on time and with the features (such as sound and light color) I chose. I took notes on what it was like to fall asleep with their wind-down features, and paid particular attention to the wake up experience. I woke up at the same time every morning with each alarm clock to keep my experiences consistent, and noted how I felt and how much sleep inertia I experienced. I also evaluated the sound and light quality of each, and how easy or difficult it was to snooze the back-up alarm (if it had one).
Special features: I tested out any additional and unique features of each sunrise alarm clock, such as speakers, Bluetooth integration, guided meditations, and accompanying mobile apps. I noted whether or not these extra features were actually helpful and easy to use.
Durability: In order to test how durable and resistant each alarm clock was, I knocked every one off my nightstand and checked to see if any parts came loose or broke. Fortunately, all of them passed this test. I also took note of each product's materials and their warranty.
What we look forward to testing
We're continuing to research and test the best wake up lamp alarm clocks; here are some models on our horizon.
- Hatch Rest+ ($89.99): Hatch recently came out with a new Hatch Rest+ smart lamp. Its features include a sound machine, night light, and a "time-to-rise" feature that cues your child when it's time to sleep and when it's okay to get up. It also has an audio monitor, backup battery, and you can control it with Amazon Alexa (but not Google Home). You can even "dress it up" with cute coverlets to make it fun for babies and children. It's received a ton of great reviews from parents and I'm excited to test its integration with Alexa.
- Lexon Miami Sunrise Wake Up Lamp ($79.90): I really want to try this sunrise alarm clock because it's shaped just like the Philips SmartSleep Wake-up Light HF3520/60 and costs a fraction of the price. It's very sleek and modern looking and comes in three color options.
- TITIROBA Wake Up Simulation ($35.99): This wake-up lamp, which is the least expensive I've seen, has received a lot of really great reviews. Some of its features include five natural sounds, a backup battery, "eye-care" adjustable lights, digital LED clock, and touch control. It's simple and equipped with only a few features but it might be worth a try if you're on a budget.
- LittleHippo Children's Trainer Sounds Machine ($49.99): This one might be a great option for kids. It's a cute design that uses colors and digital "facial expressions" to teach children when it's okay to get out of bed and when it's time to go to sleep. Its "wake" feature works just like a sunrise alarm clock, glowing to indicate the start of the day. It also has child-friendly alarms, nap timers, and a night light. It has great reviews and I'd love to compare this one to the Hatch Rest+.
- Bodyclock Luxe 750DAB (£199.00): I really want to give Lumie another shot. To be fair, the Lumie Bodyclock Shine 300 that I tested was designed years ago, but is one of the few models currently available in the United States. There is a newer version with more sound options, Bluetooth for streaming music from smartphones, higher-quality sound, and a glass lamp cover — a feature that I imagine produces a beautiful sunrise simulation. Currently, this Lumie model is only available in the UK.
What are the benefits of sunrise alarm clocks?
The light therapy implemented in these wake-up lamps helps regulate cortisol and melatonin production, two important hormones that are essential in controlling sleep/wake cycles. It can be difficult for some of us to adapt to season changes, especially in the winter when days get shorter and nights get longer. The shift from bright summer days to long, dark winter months can have an impact on circadian rhythms, sometimes resulting in seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
New technology has also affected our circadian rhythms by restraining the natural production of the sleep hormone melatonin as a result of constant exposure to artificial blue lights from our phones, TVs, and computers.
Regular daily alternation of light and darkness is essential in order to maintain good quality sleep. Sunrise alarm clocks have "wind-down" features that encourage a healthy production of melatonin at night by mimicking a gradual sunset, while the "wake-up" cycles encourage the production of cortisol in the morning by simulating a natural and gradual sunrise that prepares you for wakefulness. The wake-up and wind-down features can be equally important in helping maintain a healthy sleep cycle.
How does a sunrise alarm-clock compare to a traditional alarm?
Many sunrise alarm clocks are equipped with all the features we all like in traditional alarm clocks — a radio or music player, custom or multiple alarms, and yes, even a sound alarm if you need it. The key difference is that sunrise alarm clocks use gentle light and sound to help you wake up before resorting to the louder noises that are typical of a standard alarm clock.
Waking up to the loud, obnoxious sound of a traditional alarm clock is not only unpleasant and irritating, but it's also quite unhealthy. "If we train ourselves to wake up suddenly, with a jolt, this can become a problem for any other time we wake up in the night, making it hard to fall back asleep," said Dimitriu.
That abrupt wake-up experience can also cause stress levels to suddenly increase, often aggravating long-term issues like chronic anxiety. Winter also advises waking up gently because sudden awakenings can cause sudden blood pressure surges, possibly leading to heart issues.
Your chances of waking up with sleep inertia — that debilitating groggy, drowsy feeling that occurs as a result of a sudden, often startling transition between sleep and wakefulness — also increase if you wake up to a traditional alarm clock. Sleep inertia makes it very difficult for some people to get out of bed, and often puts people in a bad mood for the rest of their day. "Gradual alarms (sound or light) are excellent solutions to wake people gradually," said Dimitriu, since these softer alarms offer a gentler, more gradual and natural wake-up experience.
What features should I look for when choosing a sunrise alarm clock?
There are a lot of options when it comes to choosing a sunrise alarm clock. One very important aspect to consider is the brightness level of the lamp. If you're a heavy sleeper you might need a sunrise alarm clock that has bright lights to effectively wake you up in the morning.
Another important factor is alarm sounds: most sunrise alarm clocks have several sound options and some (like the Casper Glow light) lack this feature completely. If you're a heavy sleeper you may want to opt for a device with many sounds. Or, if you are a "snoozer," you might want to consider a sunrise alarm clock that allows you to set multiple alarms like the Philips Smartsleep Connected, which offers up to 16 alarms just in case you like to hit snooze more than once.
Finally, consider your personal needs; if you're uncomfortable operating smartphone-enabled technology, you may prefer a sunrise alarm clock with manual functions right on the machine. On the flip side, if you want a very custom experience, you may like a lamp that offers many different colors and sounds that are controlled through a phone app.
Check out our other sleep guides
The best alarm clocks
The best sound machines
The best smart lightbulbs
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