The eve of November brings with it Halloween, the end of daylight savings time, the final days before the 2020 election, a steadily increasing rate of Covid cases and temperature drops around the country. Somewhat disparate and somewhat intertwined, this cacophony of circumstances can lead many people to darker places, both literally and emotionally. And while anyone might rationally feel down these days for any one of the reasons above — or a combination of them — winter alone has always had the power to affect anyone suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a serious depression that lasts longer than two weeks.
SKIP AHEAD Best sunrise clocks
In fact, the coronavirus pandemic has in some ways leveled the playing field for those who’re used to dealing with SAD every winter and those trying their best to adjust to the new reality. Regardless, experts agree that sleeplessness is rising alongside the pandemic, causing problems for anyone affected, no matter the reason. To help combat the onset of SAD, depression, mood swings or just a general feeling of lackluster, some medical experts recommend light therapy, which comes in many shapes and sizes. Given that term’s proximity to so-called sunrise clocks, which have garnered increasing interest from readers in recent weeks, we looked into what buying one entails.
Sunrise clocks — which are not considered light therapy products — aim to simulate the rising sun, setting sun or both to help you get increasingly better and more restful sleep. Should you grab a sunrise alarm clock? We consulted medical experts on what these devices — available from brands like Philips, Amazon, Casper and others — can do for you, as well as what they can’t.
Sunrise clocks for better sleep
“The beauty of sunrise clocks,” explained Seema Khosla, MD, the medical director of the North Dakota Center for Sleep, is that they can help you reach a “gentle awakening.” What does that mean? Your body’s circadian rhythm is an internal mechanism that regulates various processes within any given day or 24-hour cycle, one significant standout among those being the sleep-wake cycle. A gentle awakening is a healthy way to arise from slumber.
Sunrise clocks and sleep trackers aim to help you wake up at the right time for your body, that being when you’ve reached an optimal time to leave the sleep state and enter the waking state. Disrupting that rhythm 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.
If you’re someone that takes 12 alarms to wake up, light won’t work.
Seema Khosla, MD, medical director of the North Dakota Center for Sleep
So how does a sunrise clock help? It lights up your space gradually and slowly over time, allowing your body to react to this “natural” light and wake in tandem with it rather than get jerked out of sleep by a beeping alarm or obnoxious vibration, explained Khosla, who chairs the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Technology Committee. In fact, Kohsla presented a conference session during 2020 Sleep 2020 Conference specifically about consumer sleep technology. She believes sunrise clocks are great if operated appropriately and alongside other healthy sleep behaviors, like eating right, exercising, putting our phones away before we get in bed, and trying to turn off screens altogether long before that moment.
“People who look for stuff like this are engaging” their sleep environment, a positive sign, Kohsla noted. “Can we marry it to better sleep hygiene?” One easy step in that direction? Time your sunrise clock “appropriately,” Khosla advised, counting backwards from an ideal wake time to ensure you get enough hours of sleep. Even then, sunrise clocks aren’t for everyone. “If you’re someone that takes 12 alarms to wake up, light won’t work,” Khosla said, noting the lights are no magic formula and adding that she personally likes them, for example, “but it wouldn’t work on my kid.”
Best sunrise clocks to consider
The highly-rated sunrise clock from Philips is designed to help train you into better sleeping habits over time, using a combination of lights and sounds. The connected app will let you customize your chosen sunset and sunrise times, and its auto-dimming display and its sensors will also keep track of your bedroom environment. A built-in nighttime breathing module uses light to guide you through to sleep — and the device will also charge your phone. It also syncs and empowers Philips’s SleepMapper app to document and receive feedback on some of your sleeping behaviors. The Philips SmartSleep includes two other models: The Philips SmartSleep Sleep and Wake-Up Light equips a slightly weaker light intensity (310 Lux versus 315) and won’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.
Coming in at a similar price point to the Philips option, this sunrise clock from Lumie lets you wake gradually over anywhere from 15 minutes to 90 minutes. You can then customize the final intensity of its light. Like the Philips model, it includes a built-in alarm, sounds to complement the light in aiding you to wakefulness, a dimming display and a snooze button. Its fellow models likewise drop features for reduced pricing. 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.
The stylish Hatch Restore sunrise clock gives you a more affordable route to a personalized sleep-wake cycle. With different sounds that include white noise, you can customize your light-and-sound sleeping arrangement, and of course its waking function for the morning. You can connect to the device via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Different light styles include a range of options, from Warm White to Peach and Raspberry, and a simple interface lets you tape the lit dome to jumpstart your sleeping routine. The Restore includes a clock and other sleep-forward functions in the companion app. The brand’s baby-facing sunrise clock, the Hatch Baby Rest Sound Machine is a stripped down version of the Restore (and likewise priced lower).
This high-end sleep light is less alarm clock and more night light and day light, but its offering is directly tied to better sleep. Designed to be carried around if need be, the Casper app will let you schedule when the light turn on in the morning to help you wake up, but no sounds will emit from it. 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 promises it’s durable enough to survive “everyday tumbles,” too. It’s also got a pretty design-forward build so will look nice on a nightstand if you prioritize that kind of thing.
Sunrise clocks and light therapy
Despite the apparent connection between sunrise clocks with light-centric functions aiming to instill better sleeping habits, light therapy doesn’t include them in its orbit. Instead, light therapy involves you spending time each day next to a light box that is designed to mimic outdoor light, which is “important for regulating your body’s sleeping and waking cycles,” according to the Sleep Foundation.
Light therapy includes products like this HappyLight, which emits 10,000 units of lux intensity, which is exponentially more than sunrise clocks equip. And that 10,000-lux capability is no mistake but rather the “recommended amount to make a difference in your energy levels and mood,” according to NBC BETTER’s Ronnie Koenig, who tried the HappyLight. “While a HappyLight isn’t going to instantly make you love winter, I found that when used in conjunction with a healthy routine of proper nutrition, exercise, socializing with friends and family and simply getting outside, it helped to make the gray days more tolerable,” Koenig concluded.