If you’re like many people, you probably have an alarm clock (or five) on your phone to wake you up in the morning. It doesn’t matter how zen the tune is, you still get jolted awake and it doesn’t give you a good start to the day.
You’ve heard of sunrise alarm clocks, but are they worth it? This type of alarm clock is popular and supporters of them say they can make waking up easier.
Here’s what you need to know about sunrise alarm clocks and if they can help you have a better morning.
What is a sunrise alarm clock?
Your body uses light to indicate when you should wake and when you should fall asleep, explains Shelby Harris, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of sleep health for Sleepopolis. Instead of harnessing the light of the sun (or noise from a traditional alarm clock!), a sunrise alarm clock uses artificial light to mimic a sunrise. It does this by slowly increasing the amount of light to wake you up at a specified time.
“Sunrise alarm clocks are designed to mimic natural sunlight, which is one of the most important factors when it comes to regulating and maintaining your circadian rhythm,” says Harris. And actually, research has shown that timed, artificial light from a sunrise alarm clock can work to give you better sleep quality.
How do sunrise alarm clocks work?
Light, including sunlight, is powerful when it comes to your circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is your 24-hour internal clock that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. When light hits your eyes in the morning, it sends this information through the optic nerves in your eyes to the hypothalamus. This is the area of your brain that regulates your circadian rhythm, telling you it’s time to wake up.
A sunrise alarm clock uses this light when natural sunlight isn’t cutting it, for a variety of reasons. Depending on the model, it may also have soothing sounds or different colors of light you can use.
What are the benefits of using a sunrise alarm clock?
According to Harris, if you wake up feeling groggy in the morning, have trouble falling asleep, or want to establish a regular sleep schedule, you may want to check out a sunrise alarm clock.
Check out this video for tips on putting together an energizing morning routine:
“An alarm clock that simulates sunlight exposure can help with falling asleep faster and staying asleep throughout the night,” says Harris. By regulating your circadian rhythm, it can help you sleep better, improving your mood, mental health, and overall well-being, she adds.
Harris explains that for people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), jet lag, or other sleep issues, sunrise alarm clocks can be especially beneficial.
If you use room darkening curtains or don’t get a lot of sunlight from your window, using artificial light to wake up can be the next best thing.
It can also help night owls—those who prefer to stay up later, according to a 2018 study. If this is you, you probably don’t get sleepy until later in the night, which can lead to tough mornings when you need to wake up early.
How do you use a sunrise alarm clock?
When you use your sunrise alarm clock, make sure the light is facing you so it can hit your eyes in the morning. You also don’t want it too far away, such as across the room, because the light won’t be strong enough to wake you up.
Each clock will have different features but typically can be set to brighten fully in 10 to 60 minutes. Your clock may have different brightness levels or sounds such as birds chirping or soft music. Some clocks even include a sunset simulator which gradually dims over a certain period to help you fall asleep. You may need to try different settings to find the one you like best.
It’s also important to establish good sleep habits in general. “Sunrise clocks are a great tool to help someone get better sleep and improve their sleep-wake cycle,” explains Harris, but having proper sleep hygiene can give you the full benefits. “If you think you may have a sleep disorder or are struggling to get quality sleep regularly, see a sleep doctor to get assessed before using a sunrise alarm clock,” she says. (Beyond sunrise alarm clocks, here are other smart bedroom gadgets that can help you sleep better.)
Are sunrise alarm clocks good for you?
Sunrise alarm clocks can be beneficial for anyone who wants to avoid being jarred awake by a loud alarm clock or who wants to wake more naturally. These clocks can help your body align with your circadian rhythm, which helps regulate your natural sleep-wake cycle by using artificial light instead of sound to wake you up.
Are sunrise alarm clocks effective?
You won’t be startled awake as you might with a sound alarm. Instead, most sunrise alarm clocks gradually brighten over several minutes to up to an hour which can prevent you from waking up too early.
Keep in mind that there’s more to sleep health than a gentle awakening in the morning. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and talk with your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your sleeping patterns.
Do sunrise alarm clocks help with SAD?
Sunrise alarm clocks might help decrease the symptoms of SAD, according to Harris. Light therapy is a common treatment for those affected by SAD, a type of depression that affects people during certain times of the year, particularly the winter months.
The use of light can impact chemicals in your brain that help boost your mood and combat some of the symptoms of SAD, such as daytime sleepiness, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.
Do sunrise alarm clocks make noise?
Certain types of sunrise alarm clocks come with the option of sound in addition to light. This might mean waking up to the radio, soft tunes, or nature sounds.
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