Daylight Saving Time is nearly upon us: After spending the winter in standard time, we’ll spring forward an hour on Sunday, March 13. And while some may enjoy the evening daylight in the summer, sleep doctors from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine say that less morning light and more nighttime light can result in “circadian misalignment” and lost sleep.
Sunrise clocks are a quieter alternative to audio alarm clocks, using light that mimics the natural sunrise to wake us up rather than a blaring sound. Experts told us that the presence (or lack) of light is a main factor in regulating our sleep cycle, and since the sun rises later during Daylight Saving Time, a sunrise alarm clock can provide light that may help us wake more naturally. We consulted medical experts on what sunrise clocks can do for you, as well as what they can’t. We also rounded up highly rated options across various price points based on their guidance
How to shop for a sunrise alarm clock
Most sunrise alarm clocks are fairly similar — they have a light that simulates the sunrise and/or sunset. Some clocks have other features like sleep sounds and connected apps, but the light is the critical feature that determines whether the product will be useful to you. Experts told us that the presence of light can greatly impact your body’s circadian rhythm — an internal mechanism that regulates various processes within any given day or 24-hour cycle, a significant standout among those being the sleep-wake cycle.
You’ll often see brightness expressed in lux or lumens, but what do those mean? Lumens are a measure of brightness, whereas lux is a measure of lumens spread over an area, expressed in square meters. As you shop for a sunrise alarm clock, keep in mind that a higher lux signifies a more intense light.
Another thing to be aware of is the inverse-square law, which holds that the further the distance from the light source, the less intense the light will be. That may seem intuitive, but it tells us that the brightness rating provided for any sunrise clock is only accurate at a certain distance. If you have the sunrise clock all the way across the room, it may not seem too bright. There are other variables too — like the size of your room and your wall paint colors — that can impact how you perceive a light source.
While the sunrise alarm clocks available commercially generally won’t equip an extremely bright light, experts told us the lights in sunrise clocks can still help. “You have to kind of take what's available commercially, recognizing that it may not be ideal,” said Dr. Seema Khosla, the medical director of the North Dakota Center for Sleep, emphasizing that your goal should be to sleep better, not necessarily to completely optimize the process.
Highly rated sunrise clocks
Using our experts' guidance, we found these highly rated sunrise clocks and sleep lights from notable brands like Hatch, Casper and Philips with different brightness levels and additional features.
Khosla previously recommended this sunrise clock in our guide to alarm clocks. "It allows you to be aware of your sleep environment: You can set a routine such as dimming the lights in the evening/night, playing quiet music and reminding you to turn off your devices and indulge in a relaxation routine," she said.
The Hatch Restore sunrise clock has different light styles that include a range of options, from Warm White to Peach, and you can tap the lit dome to jumpstart your sleeping routine, according to the company. Hatch also says you can connect to the device via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The clock also includes sound features, including white noise, and you can customize your light-and-sound sleeping arrangement. The Restore includes a clock and other sleep-forward functions in the companion app. It has a 4.4-star average rating from over 4,500 Amazon reviews.
This sunrise clock from Philips equips a light with 315-Lux brightness and can adjust between five different colors, according to the company. Philips says the connected app, SleepMapper, will let you customize your chosen sunset and sunrise times, and its auto-dimming display and sensors can also keep track of your bedroom environment. It has a 4.3-star average rating from over 900 Amazon reviews.
Philips also has two other SmartSleep models. The Philips SmartSleep Sleep and Wake-Up Light equips a slightly weaker light intensity (310 Lux versus 315) and doesn’t support SleepMapper. The Philips SmartSleep Wake-up Light’s light intensity clocks in at 300 Lux and drops the app, too, as well as built-in sounds and charging capability.
This sunrise clock from Lumie lets you wake gradually over anywhere from 15 minutes to 90 minutes, according to the company, and you can then customize the final intensity of its light. It includes a built-in alarm, sounds to complement the light in aiding you to wakefulness, a dimming display and a snooze button. It has a 4.3-star average rating from over 100 Amazon reviews.
Lumie also has other Bodyclock models available: The Bodyclock Rise 100 loses its radio function and alarm while the Bodyclock Glow 150 includes waking sounds and allows for more flexible waking duration.
This sleep light lacks sound functions, so it’s less alarm clock and more night light and day light. You can twist it on its base to determine its brightness and you can lift it off its base to light up the way to a midnight snack — Casper says it’s portable and durable enough to survive “everyday tumbles,” too. The Casper app will let you schedule when the light turns on in the morning to help you wake up, according to the company. It has a 4.5-star average rating from over 250 reviews on Casper.
This JALL sunrise alarm clock offers seven colored lights, including blue, indigo, purple, orange, yellow, red and green. JALL says the clock provides 20 levels of lighting to gradually wake you up in the morning over the span of 10 minutes, 20 minutes or 30 minutes. It's also equipped with seven natural sounds such as birdsong, ocean wave and piano music with 16 levels of volume and access to FM radio, according to the company. The clock comes in white and wood colors. It has a 4.4-star average rating from over 18,000 reviews on Amazon.
This clock by hOmeLabs, a Select reader favorite brand when it comes to dehumidifiers, features sunrise and sunset simulation through brightening and dimming the room over 30 minutes, according to the company. hOmeLabs says the clock comes with eight colored light options, including red, blue, and yellow, and three brightness levels, as well as sounds inspired by nature to wake you up. It also features access to FM radio and a USB charger to plug in your phone at night. It has a 4.2-star average rating from over 7,800 Amazon reviews.
Sunrise clocks for better sleep
Sunrise clocks are more gentle compared to other alarm clocks, experts told us. They aim to help you wake up at the right time for your body — when you’ve reached an optimal time to leave the sleep state and enter the waking state — by lighting up your space gradually and slowly in order to give your body time to react and adjust, according to Khosla. Disrupting that rhythm too abruptly can push you to sleeplessness or sleep deprivation, which can have significant effects on your wellness, from weight gain and mood swings to lack of alertness and even memory loss.
“You don't have that big adrenaline surge [like] when that alarm clock suddenly goes off,” noted Dr. Sabra Abbott, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and board-certified sleep medicine doctor.
Purchasing a sunrise clock alone isn’t enough to build healthy sleeping habits, according to Abbott. She highlighted the importance of regulating the light you’re exposed to in general — trying to get a lot of light during the day and less in the evening. Likewise, Khosla believes that sunrise clocks are great only if operated appropriately and alongside other healthy sleep behaviors, like eating right, exercising, putting your phone away before bed and trying to stay away from screens altogether long before that moment.