The 6 Best Sunrise Alarm Clocks + How Sunlight Affects Your Sleep
We're big believers in the power of a good night's rest to keep us feeling our best. In fact, sleep is an essential contributor to our overall health and well-being and affects our body's immune response, our mental health and cognition, and many other aspects of our lives.
All that considered, the way we wake up is just as important as the hours of sleep we're getting. Studies have shown that waking up naturally with the sunrise can regulate your circadian rhythm and improve the quality of your sleep1. Unfortunately, this kind of natural wake-up call isn't always possible, especially if you have blackout curtains or a windowless bedroom (hello, city apartments).
Sunrise alarm clocks, otherwise known as wake-up lamps or dawn simulation clocks, help you wake up gradually, with warm, natural light instead of sound. These clocks use advanced LED technology and customizable brightness settings, so you can take your sleep into your own hands and start your day on a lighter note than the loud (often stress-inducing) sound of your phone's alarm.
Below, we've carefully selected the best sunrise alarm clocks to help give you more mellow, mindful mornings.
What is a sunrise alarm clock?
A sunrise alarm clock mimics the light of a real sunrise to wake you up in the morning rather than using harsh sounds like a standard alarm clock or cell phone alarm. According to Seema Bonney, M.D., the founder and medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia, "It simulates gradual sunsets at night and gradual sunrises in the morning to help you fall asleep and wake up more naturally by steadily increasing the light of sunrise, often over 30 to 40 minutes."
If you've ever been jolted out of a Zen-like dream state by the blaring sounds of your phone's alarm, you're likely familiar with the stressed, disoriented feeling that can often follow—and if you ask us, waking up to a soft, serene sunrise is much more enjoyable.
Do sunrise alarm clocks work?
Research shows that exposure to sunlight, artificial or otherwise, can make you feel more awake2. Another study suggests that sunrise simulation could improve the quality of sleep1.
"Light helps to wake us up more gently and gradually," Bonney confirms. "These sunrise alarm clocks can also reduce the effects of sleep inertia—a drowsy, disorienting feeling that many of us (especially teenagers) experience after a sudden awakening."
As we said, waking up can be stressful. Bonney explains this further: "When we're sleeping, our blood pressure is lower, but when we open our eyes, cortisol kicks in, and the brain adapts by constricting blood vessels, increasing blood pressure and heart rate. Sunrise alarm clocks can reduce that stressful wake-up experience."
Sunlight can affect our mood, too. As Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., previously told mindbodygreen, "Light therapy is not new, and doctors have long been recommending this therapy for many different ailments." Many of these sunrise alarm clocks have features similar to those of sun lamps, which aim to combat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and ease depression, lethargy, insomnia, and morning blues.
How do sunrise alarm clocks work?
Sunrise alarm clocks take an even more specific approach to light therapy by using sunrise-mimicking light progressions to wake you up gradually from your sleep and help reset your circadian rhythm3. Bonney explains that our circadian rhythm is regulated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which she refers to as the "master clock" for our brain and body. "Without this, the patterns of sleep and wakefulness as well as metabolism, hormone release, body temperatures would be dysregulated," she says.
"When light travels from the eyes via the optic nerves to the SCN, it suppresses melatonin and creates a waking effect on the brain and body, initiating the awake phase of the 24-hour circadian rhythm and waking you up," Bonney elaborates.
Each wake-up device has different features and settings, but the best sunrise alarm clocks operate with a series of lights that progress from red to orange to white, to most-closely match a natural sunrise.
Bonney says this light simulation can also help make you feel more alert. "When your body senses the light, it halts the production of melatonin—which helps you wake up—and increases the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine to help you wake up."
Some sunrise alarm clocks also provide mellow sounds, which typically play after the lights have progressed, as well as nighttime features like sleep stories or calming light to help ease you to sleep.
How we picked:
We looked at the features different sunrise alarm clocks offer (white noise, dimmable displays, etc.) and selected products that are equipped with everything you need for a more mindful wakeup.
The alarm clocks we've included have been vetted by real people. To be sure we were considering a wide array of opinions, we read through hundreds of reviews and took all feedback into account.
Investing in your sleep is investing in your health. That said, we've gathered options across a range of budgets.
Room aesthetics are important too—and these alarm clocks are going to live on your nightstand—so we looked for stylish devices that will fit seamlessly into your existing bedroom decor.
Our picks for the best sunrise alarm clocks of 2022:
- Extensive sound and meditation offerings
- Well-designed app
- Monthly subscription required for full features
- Must use phone to operate
This device's gradual sunlight display coupled with the brand's Sleep Membership makes a full sleep system. Perfect for people who are looking to invest in their overall sleep hygiene, the app comes equipped with all the dreamy content you could want. Imagine if your favorite meditation app and alarm clock had a baby–that's what you get with this app's sound library. At bedtime, sleep stories, guided rest exercises, and light rain sounds block out city sirens and other nightly distractions.
You'll receive a free one-month membership trial with your purchase, but you will need to pay $10 per month once the trial ends if you want to have access to the exclusive sounds (music, dreamscapes, rest exercises, and sleep stories).
That said, this alarm clock is a great device even without those sounds included. It uses the natural light progression from red to orange to white, before playing your (optional) chosen sound. You can also use it at night as a reading light, and (even without the paid membership) you'll have access to a ton of features to help create a more calming bedtime and wake-up routine. Just note, you will need to use your phone to control this device, whether you pay for the membership or not.
What customers say:
Not only have more than 4,000 Amazon shoppers given this alarm clock a perfect rating, but it's also a favorite of mindbodygreen editors like Jamie Schneider. "I cannot say enough good things about the Hatch," she says. "The sunrise alarm for gentle wake-ups, the soft reading light, the library of soothing sounds to eliminate NYC noise... It's a godsend for city living. I love it so much that I even convinced my partner to have one on each nightstand—when the chimes sound off for his 6 a.m. wake-up, I don't hear a thing."
- Compact size
- Alarm can be customized by day of the week
- Difficult to set up
- Only displays military time
This brand has been making light therapy solutions for over 30 years, since long before we'd ever heard of sunrise alarm clocks. The brand's most advanced option, the BodyClock Shine 300, allows you to set the duration of the sunrise and sunset from 15 to 90 minutes; most machines max out at a 60-minute sunrise duration.
The model also earns extra praise for its extensive sound offerings. The 15 options go beyond typical rain or nature noises to include eccentric sounds, like purring kittens and a clattering cafe—all of which need to be purchased on the brand's website. Luckily, you can try them before committing.
What our testers say:
"I have never been a morning person, but since getting the Lumie Bodyclock Shine 300 my mornings are that much brighter—literally," raves mindbodygreen writer Sarah Regan. "The sunrise setting is particularly helpful now that mornings are getting darker, and waking up to the sounds of birds chirping never hurts either. I'll never go back to a standard alarm clock!"
- Lightweight & portable
- Ambient light sensor
- Quick wireless charging
- No time feature
- No audio alarm
This brand knows a thing or two about sleep—and its take on the sunrise alarm clock is about as aesthetically pleasing as it gets. The clock has a warm, glowy light and a minimalist design that makes it a great pick for people who prioritize a chic bedroom aesthetic.
The device's portable design and ambient light sensor come in handy if you do wake up in the middle of the night, as you can grab it and bring it with you as a night light rather than reaching for your phone or turning on a harsh overhead light.
Like most sunrise alarm clocks, this one also has a corresponding app that you use to control its features, and you can even sync your Flow Light with others, so you and your loved ones can settle into the same sleep rhythm.
What customers say:
The Glow Light has a 4.5-star average rating on the brand's website, with plenty of reviews to back it. Customers love the simple, intuitive design and the gradual wake-up it provides. One person raves, "My wife is very sensitive to light, especially at night. The warm yellow light itself is very calming, and the fact that they automatically gradually dim and turn off helps us wind down and naturally drift to sleep without having to worry about flipping a switch."
Best gradual glow: Philips SmartSleep Wake-up Light HF3520
- Natural light progression
- Doctor recommended
- Bulky design
- Light bulb not replaceable
While Philips offers more barebones and advanced versions of its sunrise alarm clock, we're a fan of the middle-of-the-road HF3520 model for its ability to simulate both sunrise and sunset through 20 light settings.
But what really sets this sunrise alarm clock apart from others on the market is its color quality. While many brands use a cool white light, this clock starts with a red-tinted hue that slowly builds into a gentle orange and then to a warm white. The natural light progression makes this one of the most convincing sunrise simulators of all the clocks we considered.
Oh, and the cherry on top? It includes a radio with five natural wake-up sounds—so if you do want to add some sound to your wake-up, you can choose from options like ocean waves or classical music.
What customers say:
This fan-favorite alarm clock boasts rave reviews on both Amazon and Philips' websites. One Amazon shopper writes, "The light emitted from this clock is warm and pleasant. My bedroom has a nice warm golden glow in the morning." Another added, "This wake-up light massively improved the quality of my sleep. It is so satisfyingly well-designed!"
Best rated: JALL Sunrise Light Alarm Clock
- Can set two alarms at once
- Less expensive
- Some sound offerings are a bit harsh
- Short power cord
One of the most affordable options on our list, this sunrise alarm clock doesn't come with as many bells and whistles as other models on our list. What it does deliver, though, is an effective sunrise simulation at a low price point.
Equipped with 20 brightness settings and seven color settings, this alarm clock is a crowd-pleasing option that's ideal for those who want to customize their wake-up experience. It also allows you to press snooze up to five times, and it comes with a convenient dual-alarm clock feature, so you and your partner can wake up at different times using the same machine.
What customers say:
This clock is currently an Amazon bestseller, with a whopping 21,500 ratings. Many shoppers appreciate the low cost compared to its competitors and are generally happy with its sunrise capabilities. On the downside, some reviewers complain that the supposedly "relaxing" sound options, like chirping birds and a gentle stream, are a bit harsh.
Best budget: hOmeLabs Sunrise Alarm Clock
- Less expensive
- Eight colorful light options
- Not strong enough for some heavier sleepers
- Only three brightness settings
We love a glitzy gadget as much as the next person, but sometimes you just need a simple, straightforward option—especially if you're talking about the alarm you use to get up in the morning. Enter: The homelabs sunrise alarm clock.
The most affordable option on our list, it costs less than $30 yet still packs plenty of features. For starters, light-sensitive users are able to turn off its clock display at night, a feature that's surprisingly nonexistent in more expensive devices. It also offers warm LED light and an array of eight fun color options—all of which this device delivers at the same price as a regular old alarm clock.
What customers say:
This alarm clock comes with a surprising number of features given its price point. Shoppers love that they can select the duration of the sunrise (from 15 to 60 minutes), as well as the color of the lights. Several mention that this model is a great option for kids who struggle to wake up early. That said, its sunrise is notably less gradual than other options, going from 50% to 100% brightness in one progression.
What is the best sunrise alarm clock?
The best sunrise alarm clock for you will depend on a number of factors, including what you plan to use it for (i.e., only to wake up or for sounds and bedtime routines as well), the aesthetic you're looking for, your budget, and more.
Are sunrise alarm clocks good for heavy sleepers?
Sunrise alarm clocks can work great for heavy sleepers, gently rousing them from a deep sleep. That said, we recommend choosing a model equipped with a range of brightness settings and wake-up sounds to ensure they're not sleeping through their alarm. The Philips SmartSleep Wake-up Light HF3520, Hatch Restore, and Lumie Bodyclock Shine 300 are all great options.
Is it better to wake up to light or sound?
While sound alarms will get the job done, waking up to light has its benefits. Previously mentioned research has shown the impact sunlight and artificial sunlight can have on our sleep cycles, mood, and more. The gradual wake up of a sunrise alarm clock can help you start the day on a calmer note.
Whether you're looking to develop a more mindful approach to your bedtime routine, or you simply want to start your day on a relaxed note, a sunrise alarm clock is a worthwhile investment. These top-rated wake-up lamps are proven to curb grogginess and support your circadian rhythm and can help lead to a more restful sleep. While you're stepping up your sleep hygiene, you might consider taking a look at your pillow, too—it's probably time for an upgrade.