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Analog, Digital, or Smart?

While methods of measuring time have been around since the ancient civilizations of Sumer, Egypt, and Persia, mechanical timepieces emerged in Europe around the year 1300. Since then, inventors and horologists have continually made improvements to the accuracy and size of clocks. Today, we almost take these time-keeping innovations for granted. Clocks, however, continue to evolve, from analog models with moving hands to digital clocks that display numbers electronically and, finally, to “smart” clocks that can be voice-controlled and connected to your digital home assistant.

Whether you choose an analog, digital, or smart alarm clock depends greatly on your sleep style, personality, and lifestyle. For example, if you tend to be a light to a moderately heavy sleeper, a straightforward analog or digital alarm clock can be sufficient to wake you up on time. If you dread alarm clocks, you may want to consider a smart device that can be programmed with music, nature sounds, or even a daylight clock, which uses light rather than sound for a gentler start to the day.

Key Shopping Considerations

When shopping for an alarm clock, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind: display options, alarm type, power source, and connectivity. In addition to these factors, the most important thing to consider is your own sleep style and personality. If your clock doesn’t match you, it won’t be effective—simple as that.

Display

The display is the numerical face of the clock, which can be printed (analog) or electronic (digital). First, make sure the clock display is readable. Are the numbers large and bright enough for you to see without straining? If the answer is yes, also consider the brightness of the display and whether it is dimmable. If you prefer a dark bedroom, look for a digital clock with dimmable numbers, or an analog clock with a light button instead of digital numbers.

Alarm Type

There are four types of alarms to consider: sound, motion, light—or a combination of all three. Each has strengths and drawbacks, depending on your sleep type and preferences.

  • Sound: Most alarm clocks use sound to wake us up. Many analog clocks use beeping noises, which you can sometimes adjust for length and loudness level, typically between 30 and 90 decibels, though the loudest alarms can go as high as 113 db. Digital clocks also use sound alarms but may have more options to choose from than analog clocks, including gentler alarms like birdsong and music. If you prefer music or talk to wake you, some digital clocks come with an integrated radio feature. Smart clocks have the most sound features, including pre-programmed alarm options, radio channels you can favorite, and streaming services you can connect to via your WiFi network.
  • Motion: For very heavy sleepers or those who have hearing loss or deafness, sound can be an ineffective wake-up call. Instead, consider a clock with a built-in “bed shaker.” This device is attached to the clock via a wire and slips under your mattress, giving you a strong shake each morning—without waking others in the room.
  • Light: Light alarms can either flash or simulate sunrise. For heavy sleepers, flashing lights can startle the brain into action. For lighter sleepers or people with sensitive ears, daylight clocks can help adjust your circadian rhythms by tapping into bio-cues that stimulate the brain (like natural sunlight). These alarm clocks, which simulate dawn, appear to improve both sleep and mood, according to preliminary research. Additionally, daylight clocks are excellent for bringing light to basements or bedrooms with small windows or inadequate natural lighting.
  • Combination Alarms: For the heaviest sleepers, or people with hearing loss or deafness, clocks that offer sound, motion, and light alarms can be most useful. This way if one alarm fails to wake you, the other two will do the trick.

Power Source

Analog clocks are typically battery-powered. A single AAA battery can last up to six months, while a AA battery can last for up to two years of steady use. Digital and smart clocks, on the other hand, are either battery-powered or electric. Electric models are great for at-home use, since you can plug them into a bedside socket. Many digital models are also equipped with a backup battery in case of a power outage. For travelers and people on the go, a small battery-powered digital clock can make a huge difference on business trips and holidays. By bringing your own clock, you never need to rely on hotel wake-ups or unfamiliar and unpredictable alarm clocks again.

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