It's been three months so time to answer the question… sunrise alarm clock: SAD Saviour or Overpriced Lightbulb?
First I should disclaim that I don't really suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I find it difficult to scrape myself out of bed all year round; it's just so much harder when the sun doesn't show its face before 9AM. If I appear depressed in winter it's usually due to the usual end of year what am I doing with my life moody musings… or I'm lost in Christmas menu planning. Mmm, trifle.
As previously reported I finally bought a sunrise alarm clock after eight Scottish winters of dithering. If you're not familiar with them, they're also called dawn simulators and are basically an alarm clock with a lightbulb inside. It wakes you with a gradually brightening light, like a mechanical sunrise in the dead of winter.
I got the Lumie Bodyclock Starter 30 – the most basic Lumie model but still a hefty £59.99. More pricey models allow you to awake to faux birdsong or FM radio, but the Starter 30 offers sunrise with an alarm beep, or just plain sunrise.
Gareth was amused when I took the hunk of plastic from the box, "I can't believe you paid sixty quid for a lightbulb! Bwahahha!" etc etc etc. I really wanted it to work just so I could say, "In your face!"
To my satisfaction, it has. It is so much easier to get out of bed now. Half an hour before the alarm goes off, the room starts to fill with a gentle, slowly brightening light. By the time the alarm actually bleeps I feel ready to get up.
How does that work? The Lumie website says it's because, "the sunrise effect is a natural cue for your body to reduce the production of sleep hormones (e.g. melatonin) and gradually increase the levels of those that help you get up and go (e.g. cortisol)."
To me, it somehow feels like the light lifts me out of the deepest layer of sleep and gently pulls me up towards wakefulness. Just say the deepest level is when you're really gone and dreaming that you were at a press conference in which Johnny Depp announces he's retraining as a chef*… then the light starts to seep in… and the dreams fade. I start to feel more aware of my body… thoughts of today's tasks creep in… it's like being awake with my eyes shut. Increasingly I'm waking up a few minutes before the alarm goes off, and I don't feel cranky and resentful – I'm ready to go. Not in a perky somebody-punch-that-insufferable-morning-person way… just in a matter of fact kind of way.
Just to recap my sleep habits before: on a work day, my alarm would go off at 7.15 and I'd hit snooze over and over and over til 8.15. Then I'd be in a frenzy to get to the office for 9. I started small with my reforms: a 7.30 am wakeup. A couple months on I routinely get up at 7am and have even managed a 5.30am when I had some particularly nutty deadlines. I'm not one of you crazy morning people yet, and I can't fathom the idea of morning exercise just now (I hope to get there some day), but I love getting some stuff done before I go to work. The quiet time before the day whacks you in the face is just dandy.
The progress is not all down to the clock – I've also worked on getting to bed earlier – 11pm instead of midnight or later, and reading before bed instead of computering. But I still think that the gentle light from the clock has made all the difference on the dreary winter mornings.
The best moment since getting the alarm? When Gareth opened his eyes at 6am and said blearily, "Oh man, time for work already? Hang on. What time is it? AAARRRGHHHH STUPID FAKE SUN! FOILED AGAIN!"
* I was disappointed to realise yesterday this was only a dream. I think Johnny Depp would look good in chef's whites.