Light Alarm Clocks: Do They Work?

I’m a really good sleeper. In fact, I might be too good at it – I find it nearly impossible to get out of bed in the wintertime. I used to be that college roommate with a very annoying alarm and snooze button habit. While I’ve reigned it in a little bit, I still know that hitting snooze isn’t good for me – in fact, hitting snooze often makes us more tired. I’m always trying to find ways to help me get up and get on with my day, so when I found out about light alarm clocks (also known as dawn simulators), I was intrigued.

Light alarm clocks use – you guessed it – light to help wake you up (and keep you up). These lights turn on thirty minutes before your desired wake up time and gradually change from a warm glow to a very bright light. Along with increasing brightness, the alarm makes gentle noise at your desired wake-up time (if the light didn’t get you up already).

I’ve toyed with the idea of buying a light alarm clock for a while, as research appears to say it really works. The Philips HF3520 Wake-Up Light sat on my Amazon wish list for months, and by January I was desperate enough to pull the trigger and put it in my cart. I’ve been using the light alarm clock for a little over a week; here’s what I’ve discovered so far.


Getting up slowly > waking up abruptly

The transition from being asleep to being awake is much smoother with the light alarm clock. By comparison, waking up to my traditional iPhone alarm is jarring and obnoxious. I usually find myself waking up ten to fifteen minutes before the noise alarm (which I usually would be mad about, but not in this case). I still stay in bed until the actual alarm goes off (I’m not one to get up before I have to), but I use the time to relax and soak in some of the light before I commit to getting up.

I’m in a better mood when I wake up

This probably has a lot to do with the smooth transition from rest to wakefulness, and maybe it’s partially because of the default “birds chirping” noise setting, but I’ve been in a much better mood waking up lately. Typically, I look a lot like a Garfield cartoon in the mornings: groggy, a little irritated and totally down to eat a pan of lasagna. Starting my day with light has left me feeling a lot more cheerful these past few days.

I feel more awake when I am out of bed

When I am up and about, I find it a lot less tempting to crawl back under the covers. I keep the light on while I’m getting ready (and usually I turn other lights on and open my blinds for good measure). Our bodies’ internal clocks are sensitive to light; I do believe this helps my body get energized for the day.

Light also influences our cortisol levels, which peak in the morning and decrease throughout the day. Wake-up lights help boost the cortisol levels in the morning and supports a healthy cortisol response throughout the day. Light also controls melatonin levels and helps keep our hormones in balance.

It doesn’t work miracles

All of this said, it still isn’t a perfect solution. Getting out of bed (especially in the winter) is still difficult to do. Some of the reviews on Amazon led me to believe this light was a total game changer. Maybe for someone else it will be, but for me it is just a helpful aid to supplement the things I already do to get myself ready for the day. This will not replace my need for a morning coffee, but it will be added (along with said coffee) to my morning routine.

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About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.