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I Used a Sunrise Alarm Clock So You Don’t Have To

Hatch Restore illuminated.

I Used a Sunrise Alarm Clock So You Don’t Have To

With all this talk about the harmful effects of blue light and the damage being done by smartphones and televisions used in the hours before bedtime, an interesting product trend has emerged in recent years. It’s called a sunrise alarm clock. Designed to help you fall asleep better and wake up easier, these trendy alarm clocks sound too good to be true. (Not to mention the placebo effect that might be taking place among those who speak highly of their sunrise alarm clock.) I decided to try one out for myself in hopes of setting the record straight once and for all.

How Does a Sunrise Alarm Clock Work?

Hatch Restore alarm clock.
Sunrise alarm clocks use gradually brightening lights to wake you up gently.

Sunrise alarm clocks are designed to gently and naturally wake you up through gradual light simulation. About 20 or 30 minutes before your alarm is set to go off, the light above the clock starts softly glowing. In the lead-up to your set time, the sunrise alarm clock will slowly increase the brightness. This is meant to signal to your body’s internal clock that it’s almost time to wake up.

Some more advanced models can even detect your sleep stage and wake you up when you’re in a lighter sleep phase. This should make the awakening process even smoother. (Mine isn’t that fancy, however.) Most sunrise alarm clocks include a library of sound options for your wake-up call. They range from natural sounds to soft music that complements the light. 

These high-tech alarm clocks are intended to help reset your circadian rhythm by mimicking a sunrise. This should lead to a more pleasant and refreshed morning wake-up experience compared to the traditional blaring alarms some hate to hear first thing upon waking up. But, with some priced at nearly $200 or more, are they worth the cost? Not based on my experience.

My Experience With a Sunrise Alarm Clock

Hatch Restore turned off.
Some sunrise alarm clocks can also work as sound machines.

Let me preface by saying that I’m a very light sleeper. I’m very susceptible to waking up at the sound of a loud car passing by in the night or a neighbor doing yard work early in the morning. With this in mind, I was already at a disadvantage when I decided to incorporate a sunrise alarm clock into my sleep routine. It would have taken a miracle for this thing to work for me like it works for others.

After I chose my wakeup time and the sound I wanted to wake me, I turned on the alarm about an hour before going to bed. I opted for a white noise to play throughout the night, as well. (I hoped that it might help me to stay asleep and not notice the gradually brightening light come morning.) For the next hour, the clock displayed a red-orange light resembling a sunset.

This faux sunset is allegedly meant to relax the user and help them fall asleep more easily. I left it on as I read a book, but didn’t feel any more relaxed than usual. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, too, so I didn’t notice much of a difference in the time it took me to start sleeping. Nothing had gone wrong, per se, but I wasn’t too impressed by the time I fell asleep.

Flash forward to morning. As planned, the sunrise alarm clock gradually started cranking up the brightness 30 minutes before my alarm. I opened my eyes about 10 minutes into this increasing brightness. Turns out, it gets pretty bright pretty fast — especially with the thing so close to my bedside. The same thing happened the next few nights, as well.

Is a Sunrise Alarm Clock Worth the Price?

Screenshot from Hatch website.
Sunrise alarm clocks may not be worth paying over $100 for.

By the fifth morning of waking up just 10-15 minutes into the mock sunrise, I had made up my mind. This clock was not worth the price. Especially when it continually woke me up 20 minutes earlier than I set the alarm for. As a longtime user of my iPhone’s built-in alarm feature, I was not won over by my sunrise alarm clock. If I wanted to wake up when I was being woken up by the sunrise alarm clock, I would simply set my trusty smartphone alarm 20 minutes earlier.

For the record, I used a Hatch Restore. (The first-generation product, not the latest second-generation version.) This particular sunrise alarm clock sells for $129.99. The newer version adds $70 to that price tag, raising it to an even more unjustifiable $199.99. Is it possible that this second-gen version of the Restore may do a better job waking me up when I want to? It’s certainly possible. Alas, I’m not interested in finding out yes or no.

Hatch sells a ton of other variants beyond the Restore. I can see how some of these alternative products might be more worth it for some. For example, the Rest. It’s a version of the product designed to help kids and babies develop healthy sleeping habits. The Rest uses the same ideas as the Restore but in a youth-friendly iteration. This seems much more worth the price — especially at a fraction of the cost.

How a Sunrise Alarm Clock Differs From a Smartphone Alarm

iPhone alarm screen.
If you own a smartphone, you own a great alarm clock.

In the end, I boxed up my sunrise alarm clock and went back to using my smartphone alarm. The trilling iPhone alarm sound might be the stuff of nightmares for some. But, I appreciate the way it jolts me awake and makes me scramble for my phone to turn it off before everyone else in the house gets woken up by it. This scenario segues into my final point quite nicely, however. The sunrise alarm clock is a great choice for heavier sleepers sharing a bedroom with a similarly heavy sleeper.

Instead of returning the sunrise alarm clock, I gifted it to someone else. They loved the thing, especially for the way it allowed them to wake up gently while also allowing their partner to stay sleeping beside them without stirring. This is in direct contrast to the way things were before for them. One person’s smartphone alarm would start blasting bright and early, inadvertently waking up both of them in the process.

Let this be a worthy addendum to my less-than-favorable review of this trendy product type. Some will surely get a lot of good use out of their sunrise alarm clocks. This is especially true in light of how many rival products there are on the market today. However, light sleepers like me might not be the ideal users for this alarm clock alternative. Try one out for yourself and see what you think. Prices typically range as low as $30 to as high as $200 or more.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a sunrise alarm clock?

A sunrise alarm clock is a specialized product designed to wake you up gently and naturally. Instead of jarring you awake with loud sounds, it replicates a sunrise by gradually increasing the brightness of its light. It’s supposed to mimic the way the sun rises in the morning. This gradual illumination helps regulate your body’s internal clock, making it easier and more pleasant to wake up in the morning.

How does a sunrise alarm clock work?

Sunrise alarm clocks use a soft, gradually brightening light that replicates the natural progression of sunlight at dawn. This gentle illumination signals your body that it’s time to wake up by gradually increasing the light intensity over a period of 20 to 30 minutes. By the time the light is at its brightest, you’re usually awake, or you wake up in a more natural and less abrupt manner.

Do sunrise alarm clocks make noise?

Yes, many sunrise alarm clocks come equipped with sounds that go beyond the basic alarm sound. These options can include nature sounds, gentle music, or even the radio. These sounds can complement the gradual light increase, offering a multi-sensory approach to waking up in the morning. However, some more affordable models are limited only to light with no sounds beyond the alarm.

Do sunrise alarm clocks work for light sleepers?

Sunrise alarm clocks may be effective for some light sleepers, but others will find themselves very sensitive to the sound and light coming out of the product. The gradual light and soothing sounds are supposed to create a more peaceful waking experience compared to traditional loud alarms. However, some may find them distracting instead of helpful.

Can sunrise alarm clocks help with winter blues or SAD?

Yes, sunrise alarm clocks are often used to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and alleviate symptoms of the winter blues. The gradual increase in light intensity can help regulate circadian rhythms, boost mood, and mitigate the effects of reduced sunlight during the darker months of the year.

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