Sunrise clocks, also known as wake-up lights or dawn simulators, help wake sleepers with a simulated sunrise instead of a loud alarm. By slowly increasing the intensity and brightness of light in a dark room, sunrise clocks can advance the biological clock of a person who has an unbalanced circadian rhythm, allowing them to wake up more easily and experience better and longer sleep cycles.
The science behind sunrise clocks
To understand how sunrise clocks work, it’s important to understand the relationship between your biological clock and circadian rhythms. A biological clock is an innate timing mechanism that produces circadian rhythms and regulates their timing. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that influence sleep-wake cycles. Biological clocks that run fast or slow can result in disrupted or abnormal circadian rhythms, which have been linked to various chronic health conditions such as sleep disorders, obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
For people who have difficulty regulating their sleep-wake cycles or have a complex health condition like SAD, sunrise clocks can create the foundation needed to get the seven to nine hours of sleep that the average adult needs for proper cognitive functioning. The theory behind this is that exposure to the right kind of light can speed up the waking-up process and help people comfortably start their daily routine.
According to Arthur Smith, lead editor at LEDwatcher.com, “If you have a strong sense of your circadian rhythm, you will have no problem waking up at the same time each morning without the help of an alarm. But if you are like most people, setting an alarm to wake you up in the morning is a must. However, regular alarms, although efficient at waking you up, don’t guarantee that you will feel good or even particularly awake when they go off.” That’s where sunrise clocks come in.
According to Smith, “By imitating sunrise, wake-up light clocks help to keep your sleep/wake cycle and all the hormones and chemicals in your body that come with it in check, and therefore help you wake up easier each morning. And that’s because our bodies are naturally programmed to wake up when the sun rises.”
But do sunrise clocks actually work?
According to Dr. Ari Shechter, assistant professor of Medical Sciences at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, some commercially available sunrise clocks might not have necessarily undergone controlled clinical testing and evaluation, so it’s hard to determine whether all sunrise clocks work.
“However, from clinical trials, it does appear that these types of dawn simulators can be useful for facilitating the waking up process,” says Dr. Shechter. “In laboratory-based controlled studies, devices that produce a naturalistic dawn simulation (i.e. gradually increasing light levels starting from before awakening to mimic the natural sunrise) have been shown to reduce feelings of sleepiness and increase feelings of alertness after awakening, and improve mood, particularly in individuals with seasonal affective disorder.”