IF YOU’RE HAVING trouble falling asleep at night and waking up in the mornings, you’re part of a very large, non-exclusive club. We’re all getting a little stir crazy from being cooped up in our homes for so long, but this may have even been a problem for you in better, pre-pandemic times. Getting your sleep is very important, and a solution that just might work is to simulate sunrises and sunsets in your bedroom as a way of tricking your biological hardware into making the task of getting in and out of bed easier. I’ve tested several of these sunrise alarm clocks—these are my favorites.
PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES Why You’d Want a Sunrise AlarmEasier MorningsYour body is built to wake naturally with the sunrise and feel sleepy as it sets. The sun rises at a deeply orange 2,000 kelvin (K) and transitions to a rich, golden 3,500 K on its way to a bluer midday sun around 5,500 K. Sunsets do the reverse.My apartment was the perfect lab for testing these alarms. In my bedroom, I hang blackout curtains because I live on a busy city street that’s somehow brighter at night than during the day. I’m a heavy sleeper who doesn’t have a problem waking up, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. Every morning I lurch forward out of bed like a crash test dummy flying through an invisible windshield and run for coffee. When I woke up with (most of) these sunrise alarms, I had an easier transition into consciousness.If you don’t have access to a window in your bedroom, or maybe you use blackout curtains like me, then a sunrise alarm could make your mornings or nights a little easier.
PHOTOGRAPH: AMAZONBest OverallHomelabs Sunrise Alarm ClockWIRED: Yanking it out of the box, the build quality of this thing smacked me right upside the head. A solid metal stand and touch-sensitive buttons for $20!? Hell yes. It’s simple to use, and the light on the sunset setting was warm and relaxing. The artificial sunrise was enough to rouse me out of bed, but it wasn’t too bright. There are nature sounds to help you wake up too, like birds and ocean waves.You can dim or turn off the display completely. For people like me, who have always hated seeing glowing numbers in an otherwise dark room, the latter is a great option. I’ll never understand why more alarms don’t offer it. It’s a steal at $20, especially with the extras like multicolor mood lighting, access to an FM radio, and a center snooze button that’s easy to hit.TIRED: It did a good job of casting enough light when it was the only lamp in my otherwise dark bedroom, but it’s a bit on the small side and, because of its headlamp-like shape, it shines most in a particular direction. The light is also not as diffused as the higher-end alarms on this list—certainly enough to read by before bed, but not quite as able to bathe the whole room in light. It’s still plenty bright to help wake you up, though.
PHOTOGRAPH: PHILIPSA Nice UpgradePhilips Wake-Up Light (HF3520)WIRED: Why is this so heavy? And big? Those were my first thoughts, yanking Philips’ alarm out of the box. It reminded me of my college job at a hot rod shop, lugging around headlights from old 1950s Mercurys and Chevys. It’s a good thing. The Philips HF3520 oozes build quality and is easily the nicest alarm in this guide. It has the usual features, such as an audible alarm, five natural wake-up sounds, and an FM radio.The lens is convex, and some light shines through the back of the casing, so it casts light in more directions than other headlight-shaped sunrise clocks I reviewed, like the Homelabs and Totobay. Light is beautifully diffused, which keeps the rays from being blinding—that’s especially nice in a dark room when your pupils are enlarged and particularly susceptible to harsh light. The more upscale Philips SmartSleep barely beats it out in the quality of light, but the HF3520 has the second-nicest light quality in this roundup. The clock display and touch controls are a cut above the cheaper alarms, as well.TIRED: This would be our top pick if it wasn’t so expensive. It’s five times the price of the Homelabs, but it’s not five times the alarm. Perhaps if you have a particularly large bedroom and want the extra light for reading as you settle into bed. It is nicer to look at.
PHOTOGRAPH: LANDON SPEERS/CASPER Most Intuitive DesignCasper Glow LightWIRED: You’ve got to hand it to Casper for intuitive design. To start the sunset program before bed, just flip the alarm over. There’s a button on top to pause and unpause it, and when it’s sitting on the charging pad, just turn it to adjust the brightness. Everything else, like setting wake-up schedules and adjusting the length of the sunsets and sunrises in 15-minute increments (up to 90 minutes), is controlled through the app.Of all the sunrise alarms I tested, this was the best at evenly lighting up a dark room. It’s also the only wireless model I tested, so I could start a sunset in the living room and bring it with me into the bedroom later. You can pair several Glow Lights together, and they’ll sync so you can have one in the living room and another in the bedroom, which will ease your whole apartment into a sunset as you near bedtime. Or just have two on both nightstands. They recharge on a pad the size of a coaster.TIRED: It has only one shade of light, and while you can adjust the brightness, you can’t make it warmer (yellower) or cooler (bluer). But it’s a gorgeously warm yellow light. It’s $130 yet doesn’t have a clock, a radio, or an audible wake-up buzzer. If you ban your phone from your nightstand every night and need an alarm that can be programmed to scream at you precisely at 6:30 am, you’ll need a different sunrise alarm.
PHOTOGRAPH: PHILIPSThe Super-Premium PickPhilips SmartSleep Connected Sleep and Wake-Up Light Therapy LampWIRED: After testing some of the more affordable options on this list, I was ready to say I couldn’t recommend a $220 alarm clock. But the SmartSleep, formerly known as the Somneo, nailed the basics of what a sunrise alarm should be, and then piled on a bunch of customizable features you won’t find on other devices. First off, the light spreads over the walls like warm butter. It’s somewhat directional, but the hole in the middle and convex shape casts light at wider angles than other directional alarms. The light quality is slightly ahead of the other premium alarms in this list, and you can select from four light profiles.Setting it up was simple. As soon as I plugged it in, the alarm lit up with directions to download the Philips app on my phone. You can control it through the touch-sensitive controls on the alarm’s face, but the best way to operate all its features is through the app (don’t bother with the non-Wi-Fi model). You can even follow a guided breathing exercise through the light to relax before bed, and the wake-up sounds aren’t gimmicky—I loved waking up to the gentle chirping of birds.
PHOTOGRAPH: BED BATH & BEYONDBest for SoundsiHome ZenergyWIRED: The Zenergy has the most relaxing sounds before bed and when waking up in the morning. There are 16(!) of them. Some sounds, like Heartbeat and Trance, remind me of science fiction films like Event Horizon, but most of them are more natural and offer a very calming effect. Storm, Chimes, and River are my favorites. There’s also a guided breathing exercise where a voice instructs you when to take in breaths, hold them, and release them over a soothing track in the background, and it gets me in the mood for bed every time. The see-through cloth cover allows the digital clock and menu items to shine through while hiding unlit display settings that aren’t in use. A premium touch.TIRED: Color patterns such as Aurora, a rainbow effect, and Pulse, a colored checkerboard pattern, are fun, but they don’t keep me relaxed or wake me up. The Zenergy doesn’t light up the room nearly as much as the other alarms, so I wouldn’t use it to wind down while reading in bed the way I used the others. It was more like a night light I’d set, climb into bed, and let lull me to sleep as it gradually lowered its light. There’s one sound mode called Peace that sounds like a gas leak overlaid with somebody holding a lightsaber behind my head. I didn’t use that one much.
PHOTOGRAPH: AMAZONA Decent AlternativeLumie Bodyclock Active 250WIRED: With a bulb mounted high inside a three-sided lens, the Lumie pitches a lot of light in all directions. It fills up a dark room better than the more directional lamps, though the large vents on the back of the lens cast a peacock-pattern of light on the walls. It does a good job of diffusing the light, which is what you want when you don’t want to be blinded. And it has the usual list of features—a loud alarm, a dimmable clock, a snooze button, and buttons to adjust brightness and the duration of sunsets and sunrises.TIRED: It looks and feels like something designed in the 2000s because it was designed in the 2000s. Operating it is a pain. Even with the manual in front of me, working the various controls was a headache. It’s not bad, just expensive for what you get in an increasingly crowded market full of newer designs. I wouldn’t pay more than $100 for it, so if you really want it, only buy it when there’s a sale.