The wrong alarm clock can be jarring at best, ineffective at worst. The right alarm clock, however, can help you rise and shine. For less stress and more mojo in the morning, read our guide to choosing the best alarm clock, and don’t miss our five favorite picks among the top models.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are also a host of “smart” clocks on the market, which all promise to make your life easier and your daily routine more streamlined. If you have a home digital assistant like Amazon Alexa or Google Home, make sure the clock you choose is compatible with this system. Other features of smart clocks include integrated WiFi connectivity, USB ports for charging your devices at night, as well as speakers and radio options. Once your clock is connected to your home network, you can stream music, audiobooks, and news at bedtime and in the morning.
To Snooze or Not?
Many alarm clocks include a “snooze” button, which temporarily silences the alarm to give you a few extra minutes of sleep before sounding it again. However, if you tend to over-rely on snooze buttons, look for a clock without this handy but addictive feature.
Our Top Picks
There is a wide range of alarm clocks out there, but which ones really make the grade? See below for our favorites among the best alarm clock options today.
1. BEST OVERALL: USCCE Small LED Digital Alarm Clock
USCCE’s small digital clock packs a wallop in features and functionality. The big white LED numbers are easy to read, day or night, and the display can be adjusted from 0 to 100 percent brightness. Choose from five different alarm options, including birdsong and piano music, and adjust the volume from 30 to 90 decibels (the difference between a bird call and motorcycle). What we like best about this clock is how easy it is to use. And while USCCE’s clock is super-simple to use, it comes with additional features for the tech-oriented, including an integrated USB port that can charge your smartphone while you sleep. It plugs into the wall and offers battery backup in case of a power outage. Affordable without sacrificing craftsmanship, the USCCE is our pick for the best all-around alarm clock.
2. CLASSIC PICK: Peakeep Twin Bell Alarm Clock
At last, a simple analog alarm clock that works like a dream. For quality and simplicity, turn to the Peakeep Advantage. With its retro style and contemporary finish, this clock will enjoy pride of place at your bedside or anywhere in your home. The clock dial is ultra-easy to read—thanks to its stereoscopic numbers—and the silent, non-ticking hands mean this clock will not keep you awake at night. It will wake you up in the morning, though. The Peakeep is designed for heavy sleepers as well as those with mild to severe hearing loss. Plus, if you tend to ignore alarms, this clock is for you: no snooze button to rely on! Hold down the light button and the backlit face will be clearly visible at night. With five bold colors to choose from, this clock is a well-designed steal at less than $15.
3. BEST FOR TRAVEL: Travelwey Home LED Digital Alarm Clock
Next time you’re on the road, don’t worry about being late for an important business meeting or struggling with jet lag without a reliable alarm clock. Instead, pack the Travelwey. This stripped-down yet high-quality alarm clock is designed with “absolute simplicity in mind,” according to the company. The extra-large, illuminated LED digits can be dimmed to your personal comfort level, offering relief from electronic lights during sleep time. With a large built-in nightlight, a loud 5-minute alarm, and a 9-minute snooze button, the Travelwey is perfect for business trips and school days. Just plug in for daily use, and pop in two AAA batteries for backup power in case of an outage.
4. TECH PICK: Corlitec Smart Wake Up Light Alarm Clock
If you fancy waking up with the rising sun—and perhaps your favorite radio station—Corlitec’s Smart Wake Up can give you a morning ritual you just might enjoy. This digital sunrise clock simulates sunrise/sunset using a gradual approach your body will appreciate. If the light isn’t quite enough to get you up, this clock comes with seven natural sounds and a 16-level volume adjustment. Or if you prefer your own tunes, save your preferences to the built-in FM radio playlist (max 60 stations). The display dims automatically in darkness, and will even help put you to sleep using gentle night lighting and soft sounds. As if all this wasn’t enough, the Corlitec clock also has a WiFi connection, remote control feature, and voice control functions, compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
5. BEST FOR HEAVY SLEEPERS: Sonic Bomb Dual Extra Loud Alarm Clock
The name says it all: Sonic Bomb. It originated as a pioneering effort to create the first vibrating alarm clock for heavy sleepers or people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Ever since, the Sonic Bomb has garnered critical praise and loads of followers. This extra-loud alarm clock is equipped with a vibrating bed shaker and flashing red lights—just in case the 113-decibel range doesn’t wake you. At its loudest, this clock is like a car horn blaring three feet away. The Sonic Bomb allows you to set multiple alarms, with a duration of 1 to 59 minutes, and a 1- to 30-minute snooze feature. Share your room with a light sleeper? Simply shut off the sound and let the bed shaker do all the work. Adjust the display brightness with a five-level dimmer. The unit comes with a battery backup and your choice of seven bright colors.