overhead shot of person holding a pillow over their eyes in bed in the morning

This Alarm Might Actually Make You a Morning Person

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I’m no night owl. Most nights I’m in bed by 9:30 pm and asleep by 10. But calling myself an early bird would be a stretch, too. I don’t really want to get out of bed at 6 am with my middle schooler. In fact, I’d rather cocoon myself under the duvet and pillows. Fortunately, a few years ago I found a secret weapon that helps me drag my snoozy body out of bed: The Philips SmartSleep Wake-up Light.

Unlike other alarm clocks and phone apps that use sound to rip you from your slumber, the Philips light mimics the sunrise to gently wake up your body. And for me, it’s been a game-changer. Here’s my review of the Philips Wake-up Light (model HF3520/60)—the one thing guaranteed to get me out of bed, even on the darkest winter morning.

How the Philips Wake-up Light Works

The Philips Wake-up Light alarm clock does pretty much what the name says: It simulates a sunrise to help you rise and shine. Unlike someone (rudely) switching on an overhead light to wake you up, the clock’s light is more of a gentle easing. It cycles through 20 brightness settings over 30 minutes. The lights range from deep red to warm white. At its brightest setting, the light is 300 lux.

The only time I’ve actually seen the red light is when I tested the clock while awake. But that’s kind of the point. The deep red glow isn’t supposed to shout “wake up!” Instead, it’s more of a “psst. It’s time to get up” nudge. I usually start to blink my eyes open by the time the clock’s round face is alight with a warm orange radiance. By the time it’s gleaming white I’m already downstairs, fumbling with the coffee maker and feeding the dogs.

You can pair the light with wake-up sounds—the usual suspects of chirping birds, gently crashing waves, and forest ambiance—or an FM radio station, but personally I don’t use them. The light on its own is plenty to get me going, and I like a bit of quiet to ease into my day.

What I Like About the Philips Wake-up Light

Besides helping me give my tween some early am moral support, the Philips Wake-up Light has plenty of promising features.

It makes waking up less painful. I’ve had the Philips Wake-up Light for a few years and it’s never failed to help me wake more gently, even when I’ve had to get up at an ungodly hour to catch a flight.

It’s easy to set. There are buttons on either side of the clock for turning the alarm feature on once it’s programmed (you can set 2 different alarms). More importantly, the alarm is easy to turn off. Before getting the Philips light I used my phone’s alarm feature to rouse me. Blindly scraping my hand along the carpet to find my phone (because it inevitably fell out of the bed part way through the night) and smash the off button to make the incessant beeping stop is anything but a relaxing way to start the day.

The sunset setting can put you to sleep. That’s right—this clock also has a sunset setting. I don’t use it often, but on nights that I want to read a bit before bed instead of watching Outlander reruns, I hit the dimmer button, which essentially simulates a sunset. I usually set the timer for about 30 minutes (you can choose how long it takes to dim) and watch the light slowly fade to darkness. And unlike blue lights from phones that can keep you up, the light emitted from this clock is soothing and calming.

It looks modern. Unlike the brown brick alarm clock from the ’80s (you know, the one everybody had), the Philips Wake-up Light is sleek and modern. My bedroom’s decor is cozy-minimalist, but the alarm would fit in with most decorating styles. The lamp is 7.83 x 5.75 x 7.56 inches, so it does take up a not-insignificant amount of real estate on my bedside table. But I have a decently sized bedroom and a pretty big bedside table so that’s not a dealbreaker for me.

The one thing guaranteed to get me out of bed, even on the darkest morning.

Why The Philips Wake-up Light Might Not Be for You

There are some features that you should consider before getting the Philips Wake Up Light.

Price. The Philips Wake-up Light sells for $149; not peanuts, especially when most of us have alarms right there on our phones. For me, gradually waking with the light is worth the price tag, but it might not be for everyone.

It’s gentle. For me, this is a selling point. But I’m a pretty light sleeper. I’m the first in my family to hear squirrels running along the roof or one of my kids calling for help in the middle of the night. My husband is the polar opposite. A herd of strobe-light carrying buffalo blowing air horns could thunder through our bedroom at 2am and he wouldn’t move a muscle. So if you’re a heavy sleeper, the Philips Wake-up Light might not be enough to get your keister out of the covers. It also might not be ideal for couples who are both light sleepers but who wake at different times.

The programming buttons can be fiddly. To set the clock, or the alarm, you have to tap a series of haptic buttons on the lower rim of the face. While the unobtrusive buttons add to the sleek aesthetic, it can make setting the clock tricky. I had to practice a few times before I got it down. I don’t usually vary my wake-up time, but if you rise at a different time every day, programming and reprogramming the clock could be annoying.

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a more gentle way to ease into your day, I definitely recommend this light. It’s especially helpful in the winter when it’s so dark in the morning that it still feels like the middle of the night. But you can use it in the summer too, especially if (like me) you use room-darkening curtains so a 5 am Saturday sunrise doesn’t rouse you earlier than you’d like. Being able to start my morning in a calm way helps the rest of my day feel just a little bit easier.

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