The One Thing You Need To Do To Wake Up Without Spiking Your Cortisol

collage of alarm clocks

Graphic by Megan Doty / mbg Creative

I am not a morning person. "Five more minutes" is a cozy crutch I lean on pretty heavily, and I'll admit I abuse the power of the snooze.

Some wake-ups are smoother than others, though, and the days when I take a few minutes to think about what I'm grateful for instead of snoozing my phone alarm for an hour or mindlessly clicking through social media definitely start on a brighter note. (Expressing gratitude really can make us happier and healthier—look it up!) This year, one of my goals is to become better about waking up feeling energized and optimistic, and I have a feeling I'm going to need to ditch my phone to do it.

Constant screen time has been shown to stress us out, and a recent study out of the University of Pennsylvania found that too much social media actually causes depression and loneliness. One side effect of chronic stress is a high cortisol count. Cortisol, a stress response chemical that's excreted by the adrenal glands, is not something you want to have too much of—especially in the morning.

"Most long-term chronic health problems can be traced to disturbances in the natural cortisol pattern," writes Aviva Romm M.D., an integrative doctor, midwife, and mbg Collective member. She associates it with everything from obesity and diabetes to digestive issues and more. Cortisol levels are naturally highest in the mornings, so you definitely don't need to be spiking them more as soon as you open your eyes. All of this is to say, the first few minutes of your day should probably be a screen-free zone.

If you, like me, set your alarm on your cellphone, consider switching to a good old-fashioned clock so you're not tempted to keep clicking after you turn it off. Here are a few options that will wake you up gently for every price point and preference. Snooze button, we've had a good go, but consider this my breakup letter.

1. Bluetooth Essential Oil Diffuser

You can program this wood clock to wake you up to a song or sound, and you can also set it to mist essential oils to help ease you awake. We suggest starting with lemon, peppermint, or another energy-boosting scent.


Bed Bath & Beyond Bluetooth Essential Oil Diffuser ($49.99)

2. Alarm Clock With Colored Sunrise

This clock is on the pricey side, but you're paying for the light therapy component, which starts simulating a sunrise 30 minutes before your wake-up time and gradually gets brighter. Rising with the sun is great for your circadian rhythm, and it helps keep cortisol levels steady throughout the day too.


Philips Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock with Colored Sunrise Simulation ($139.99)

3. Cube Clock

If you're more of a minimalist, check out this cube clock that just does the basics but is super sleek and easy to use.


MoMA Design Store Alume Cube Clock ($43.20)

4. Drop Water Alarm Clock

Hydro-powered alarm clock? Yep, it exists, and you only need to replace the water every six months. Its design is inspired by a drop of water, and it makes for a great gift for any eco-minded person in your life.


Bedol Drop Water Alarm Clock ($43.99)

5. Amazon Echo

There are about a million ways to use an Amazon Echo, including as a smart alarm clock. Just tell it the time and tune you want to wake up to, and sleep easy knowing Alexa's got you.


Amazon Echo Dot ($29.99)

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