Attack of the sunrise alarm clock

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.

20 thoughts on “Attack of the sunrise alarm clock

  1. Some time ago, I got the BF one of those sunrise alarm clocks, and I think he actually likes it. So much that he took it on a family vacation with him (I stayed at home). ^^

  2. THANK YOU for the much needed field research! I’ve been tempted countless times…and even dragged myself and said clock/glorified bulb up to the register once only to chicken out at the last second because I was terrified I’d get it home and find out I had once again bought a gimmicky piece of crap! Thanks again – I’m gonna give it a shot 🙂 (I don’t have SAD either, but do have a long running affair with the snooze button that isn’t healthy for either of us…)

  3. No clock but cats: At 5:30 they start with soft purring. At 5:45 they purr directly in our ear and start rubbing their noses into our faces. At 6 (wake-up time) they start to play with each other, using my stomach as a starting point for jumps. Get up and get the cat food ready! Triumphant meows. Never had problems with oversleeping 🙂

  4. That thing rocks, I haaaate going to work in the dark, coming in the dark, so dreary. I would totally go for that if my significant other actually worked (okay not fair,he works from home while I’m up at 5:15 everyday). Hmmm, which is the less fair part?

  5. That…is actually pretty cool! Getting up in the morning, no matter how much sleep i’ve gotten, is a b*tch. I might have to get one of those!

  6. Genius! This would stop my charming Italian flatmate from yelling at me when I hit snooze at 5.37, 5.40, 5.43 and 5.46 am. Apparently I have a loud alarm.

    And good on you for being right as regards husband. Satisfying!

  7. I totally get the SADs in the winter (November – January are my hell months), and have often thought of something like this, but also thought it might not work. So glad that you field-tested it for me. 🙂

    I generally am a morning person, and the mid-winter dark really screws with my schedule AND my psyche.


  8. I got one of these last autumn and love it! I too though £60 was a little steep for a lamp/alarm clock, but it really does work.
    It just makes starting each day easier, rather than in a mood about the lack of sun light 🙂

  9. I’ve had one of these for a while now, it’s a great way to wake up. Mind you, this morning I slept right through the ‘sunrise’ and woke up groggily to the beeper!

  10. Living in sunny Western Australia I at least get half a year where its easier to get out of bed in the morning but when its dark at 6am in winter I have no chance! If we ever move to Ireland (to be near my partners family) I will definitely be getting one of these alarms!

  11. Cool !There’s an app called Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock that “analyzes your sleep patterns and wakes you in the lightest sleep phase.” You put your phone near your pillow. I need to give it a try instead of just downloading it.

  12. oh i’m so glad its working for you! that’s great. It makes such a difference to wake to the day not completely frazzled already.

    I borrowed my sister’s for a while but learned that I had taught myself during the dodgy university years to sleep through any amount of daylight and any amoutn of noise. So it was just lots of snoozing of the terribly expensive alarm. Oops.

  13. I want one. The autumnal wind was howling this morning, twas pitch black at 6 and like the Moors of Melbourne.

    I love the line about not waking punch-in-the-face-perky, just matter of fact! I love those rare mornings where I contentedly get up robo-style and say to myself “Indeed, it is time to rise.” Not happy, but CONTENT.

    Usually I fall out of bed after 50 hits of the snooze button, am awoken by two yodelling children, or flee screaming for the shower (as we’ve all overslept).

  14. I want that clock! It’s so cute and I think it would really help me next winter. Now that it’s getting light in the mornings here again, it has been so much easier for me to pry my eyelids open.

    Next winter, I must buy one. Or, if they go on sale in spring, maybe then.

  15. I have been wanting one for awhile… my hubby scawfs at the idea, but I said the happier I wake up is for the benefit of the WHOLE family!!

  16. I keep threatening to get one of these things. I don’t really have a problem getting out of bed (I HAVE to be out on time because I hate to rush and I HAVE to be out of the house at 6:30am), but by mid week I’m quite grumpy about it. I thought maybe this would help in that area too 🙂 Phillips make a good one (apparently), this could be on my next gift wish list…

  17. I love your mention of the Johnny Depp dream. Not just because it’s weird, but the WORST awakenings from sleep are when I’m in the middle of a dream. I feel absolutely DRAGGED from the depths when that happens. I may try this fancy lightbulb.

    Also: OMG I always forget how far north Scotland is. I can’t imagine those short days!

  18. I only said to my husband the other day that I felt like I had a dose of SAD – that is during summer on the South Coast of NSW. Honestly, the sun has barely made an appearance for three months. It’s been grey sky, rain, grey sky and more rain. Sound familiar. No need to feel homesick this summer. The sun came out for 10 minutes and I was insanely happy!

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