Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen, University of Utah
How do you feel about waking up to your alarm clock each morning? It’s very common to feel anxiety–or even dread–at the sound of your alarm. Often negative feelings about waking to your alarm are due to truly not having slept enough, but sometimes you don’t have a choice about how much sleep you are able to get on a given night. Even those who generally get seven to eight hours of sleep at night often report feeling tired in the mornings. If you shudder at the very thought of your alarm clock, you may want to consider an alternative that can use your natural bodily sleep functions to help you wake up painlessly.
The body has natural sleep-wake patterns, known as the circadian rhythm. This is strongly influenced by light and darkness in its environment. Light and darkness each trigger the production of hormones that influence the body toward a state of sleepiness or wakefulness. As the evening becomes darker, your body begins producing a hormone called melatonin that helps you to naturally fall asleep. Similarly, as your body is exposed to more and more light in the morning, it produces a hormone called cortisol that prepares your body to wake up. As you might imagine, this process works best when you are exposed to natural sunlight during the daytime and when you are exposed to minimal light in the evening.
Because we tend to populate our environment with artificial light throughout the day and night, many people’s circadian rhythms are simply out of sync. People who have trouble falling asleep at night are often advised to dim the lights in their homes and to avoid exposure to light from screens such as computers, TVs, and smartphones during the time before bed. This same advice works in reverse; increasing the light in your room towards the time you plan to wake up in the mornings would be a possible way to help you naturally become more wakeful–but, of course, it can be harder to have control over the amount of light in the room while you are still asleep.
Fortunately, there are actually technological advances in the market that make it possible to do just that.
One type of device that you can purchase is called a “sunrise alarm clock.” As the name implies, this is a clock that increases the light gradually–starting usually around half an hour before you would like to wake up–mimicking the effects of a sunrise. This gives your body a chance to adjust to the morning and produce enough cortisol to make waking up feel natural and pleasant. Some research has shown that waking up with a sunrise alarm can resync your circadian rhythm enough that you may actually find your overall sleep quality is significantly improved. Usually, we complain that the influx of technology in our lives is disrupting our circadian rhythm–and this product is a great example of how technology can actually help to rebalance it.
So if you notice that you are dreading that beep of your alarm more and more, a sunrise alarm clock might be a good choice for you. While of course it’s important to try to get enough sleep, finding ways to reset your circadian rhythm can’t do any harm. There are a variety of models on the market at a wide range of price points, so you are bound to find something that works for you.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/how-sleep-works
- Leppämäki S, Meesters Y, Haukka J, Lönnqvist J, & Partonen T. (2003). Effect of simulated dawn on quality of sleep – a community-based trial. BMC Psychiatry 3(14). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC270037/