If the shrill beeps coming from your alarm clock jolt you awake and make you dread mornings, it may be time to find a kinder, gentler wake-up routine.
“How you wake up in the morning directly impacts your thoughts immediately when you wake up and, in turn, impacts your mood,” says sleep researcher S. Justin Thomas, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “There is a surge in the stress hormone cortisol to prepare people to wake up. So, if you had a loud, blaring alarm clock, it's possible it could shoot your cortisol up even higher, maybe, or increase your blood pressure a little bit.”
Luckily, alarm clocks have evolved over the years. Some now use more inventive methods to ease you from sleep, better replicating what it’s like to wake up naturally. The hope is that you start your day in a better mood, with more energy and less stress.
“If you’re using more subtle sounds or subtle light, that stimulus might be enough to kick you into a lighter stage of sleep without completely jolting you awake from a really deep state,” says Dr. Vikas Jain, FAASM, a board-certified sleep medicine specialist in Texas and adjunct clinical assistant professor at Stanford's Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. “That may be why people might feel a little bit better.”
5 Better Ways to Wake Up in the Morning
If beeps, dings, and ring tones antagonize you, why not give one of these gentle alarm clock options a try?
Sunrise Alarm Clocks
Early-morning light is a powerful natural cue that helps rouse you from sleep. If your bedroom has blackout blinds or you wake up before the sun comes up, a dawn-simulating clock that mimics sunrise can help gradually awaken you. Research shows that dawn simulators help people to feel less groggy, more energetic, and in a better mood upon awakening.
“A natural kind of sunrise alarm clock, particularly for somebody who’s in a relatively dark room, can be very helpful in waking up in a more natural way,” says Thomas.
Some models play calming nature sounds, too, meaning you can awaken to birds chirping or ocean waves crashing, adding to the illusion that you’re outside enjoying a sunrise.
Look for dawn simulators that list their lux output, which measures light intensity.
“Two hundred and fifty, 300 lux is probably what you want,” Dr. Jain says. “If it’s just something that outputs very minimal light, then it’s probably not going to be an effective product.”
Aromatherapy Alarm Clocks
Alarm clocks that hold essential oils can mist your room with strong, pleasant scents when it’s time to wake up. Some incorporate nature sounds into the process, which may be helpful, if you don’t think you’d awaken from aromas alone.
“There’s a lot less evidence supporting aromatherapy in waking up than there is with light,” says Thomas, who notes that early-morning wakeups often happen during REM sleep, when people dream. “The scent could be incorporated into your dream and might make you wake up in a better mood.”
Each person has their own unique preferences. “We all probably have associations we can make with certain aromas and whether they’re calming, whether they’re alerting,” says Dr. Jain. “If there is a smell that is more alerting to you, it might help.”
Try: HoMedics SoundSpa Slumber Scents ($80)
Coffee Maker Alarm Clocks
If you don’t feel like yourself until your first cuppa joe, a bedside clock that doubles as a coffee maker, preparing a fresh mugful at the appointed hour, may be the olfactory cue that entices you awake.
“The whole Pavlovian thing where... they ring the bell and the dog salivates — it’s a similar phenomenon,” says Thomas. “An alarm clock that would wake you up to the sound of coffee brewing and the smell of coffee could maybe make you feel a little bit more awake in the morning. And certainly, for people who like coffee, it’s going to be a more pleasant way to wake up than a loud, jarring alarm sound.”
Try: Barisieur 2.0 Tea & Coffee Alarm Clock ($445)
Vibrating Alarm Clocks
If you’re not a fan of noisy alarms, or if your regular alarm clock just can’t get you out of bed, consider a vibrating alarm clock.
Some vibrating alarm clocks have a flat disk that slides under your mattress or pillow, shaking the bed when it’s time for you to rise. Other versions are wearable, so that you feel vibrations on your wrist or another body part. You can choose to wake up with vibrations only or add sound to the experience.
“It’s a different sensory cue, so if somebody doesn’t respond to sound, maybe they'll respond to that a little bit better,” says Thomas. “I have heard anecdotal evidence of people finding that vibration helpful, but it didn’t work for some.”
Smart Speaker Music Alarm Clocks
Some people find it startling when music starts playing amid the silence. Others enjoy waking up to a favorite song. Because sleep experts recommend leaving your phone out of the bedroom — it can be disruptive to sleep — you may not have access to your music library while in bed. A smart speaker alarm clock allows you to play your music without tempting you to doomscroll all night.
“If you wake up feeling a bit happier by listening to your favorite song and it wakes you up, I’m all for it,” says Thomas, who recommends occasionally changing your wake-up tune. “People seem to be able to adapt to staying asleep with certain sensory cues... if they use music, they have to change the song periodically, because they start sleeping through the song.”
Try: Echo Dot with Clock, 4th Generation ($60)
One Last Note on Gentle Alarm Clocks
We hear you: Waking up is hard. But if you still wake up feeling groggy after swapping out your old alarm clock, be sure that you’re sleeping 7 to 9 hours each night. — chronic sleep-deprivation can’t be fixed by changing your wake-up style. Still struggling? Talk to your doctor.
Read Next: Are Smart Bulbs the Secret to Better Sleep?
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