Wake up Lights Buying Guide

Waking up to a loud beeping alarm clock can be a bit too harsh for some people. If you are someone who wants to smash their alarm clock to pieces on a regular basis, you may want to try out a wake up light also known as a dawn/sunrise simulator. These are lights that promise a gentler more pleasant beginning to your day. The way they work is about half an hour before you want to wake up the light gradually increases in your room in the same way a sunrise would, most people wake up from the light, but if you don’t, a gentle beep will start when it is time for you to get up. By waking up in this way many people have found that they wake up in a much more pleasant mood, and feel much more refreshed and energized- especially during the dark winter months.

In order to help you find the best dawn simulator light for your needs, we have rounded up the most popular and best reviewed products on the market and have broken down exactly what you need to know.

In this buying guide you will find:

  • Our top picks
  • Why use a sunrise simulator
  • Features to look for
  • Reviews and recommendations
Top Picks

Best Wake Up Light (Overall)

Best Budget

Best SAD Light Therapy Sunrise Simulator Light

New and Notable
ProductsPhilips HF3520 Wake-Up Light With Colored Sunrise SimulationPhilips HF3500 Wake-Up LightNature Bright Sun BlissAura EnergyUP
What makes this a great wake up light?
  • 5  wake up sounds
  • sunrise simulation
  • 300 lux
  • Good entry level model for light therapy
  • Inexpensive
  • 200 lux
  •  Can use as a sunrise simulator or as a SAD light
  • Inexpensive
  • Small and lightweight
  • 10,000 lux
  •  Can use as a wake up light or SAD energy light
  • 10,000 lux with 3 levels of intensity

Why Use a Wake up Light

The main point of these lights is to help people who have to wake up in the dark, wake up in a more natural way by mimicking a sunrise. Results of studies that the company Philips were involved with, indicate that people who use one of the Philips Wake-Up Light find that it helps them wake up more pleasantly and makes it easier to get out of bed. If you are looking for a light to help treat SAD, you can get lights that combine dawn simulators with bright light therapy..

What to Look for:

When you are shopping around for one of these types of lights these are the features and things to keep in mind:

Option to be able to turn the sound off completely: There is a good chance if you are looking to avoid a loud ringer when being woken up, you may be sensitive to sound and don’t want any kind of sound when being woken up. Generally the way these lights work is that the lights will start with the light switching on until it is fully bright and a beep will begin – just to ensure that you are awake. Theoretically, you should be awake and able to turn off the beep before it begins. Most models either have an option to turn the beep off or at least turn the volume to minimum so you cannot hear it.

Color of the light: Because the point of these lights is to mimic a sunrise you can expect the color of the light to be at the very minimum a warm yellow color to the soft dawn reds through warm orange to bright yellow of the higher end models.

Ability to dim the time display: Some clock displays can be quite distracting when trying to fall asleep. If you are someone who is sensitive to any light when trying to get to sleep, ensure the device you get gives you the option to dim the display.

Number of alarm settings: A feature that is common on many regular alarm clocks is the option to have two different alarm settings, one for weekdays and one for the weekend.  This isn’t a standard feature on the cheaper sunrise simulator models, so if this is a feature that you need you will have to pay a bit more for that.

Sound choices of the alarm: On lower end models you will usually just have the option of a beeping sound or the radio if you choose to use the alarm sound as well as the light. The higher end models include the option to have things like Bird Song, Birds in the forest, Zen Garden, Gentle piano and Seaside Sounds.

Lux Value: The lux value is the unit of illuminance and luminous emittance, which basically just means the level of brightness. Sunrise simulation lights generally use light sources that range in illuminance from 100 to 300 lux, while the dawn simulation lights that include the bright light therapy are usually around 10,000 lux.

Battery Backup: A fairly important option on any type of alarm clock is having a battery backup option in case your power goes out. Oddly enough, the very popular Phillips models do not include a battery backup.

Powered by battery or electricity: If you are using the product as SAD bright light therapy (in addition to a wake up light), you may want a battery powered device if you are going to be moving it around to different rooms, as it would be slightly more convenient.

Size: Another feature to give some thought to is the size of the light. Some models are fairly large so if you have limited space beside your bed that may be something you need to consider. The very popular Philips Sunrise is 10″ X 10″, which is not small.

Radio: Does it have one, do you need one, and what are users saying about the sound quality of the radio.

Reading light/Sunset simulation: Since some of these alarms take up a good amount of space, you can generally use them as reading lights as you’re getting ready to go to sleep. Some offer the function of a sunset simulation to help you get to sleep.

SAD bright light therapy: The Philips wake up lights offer light therapy but not the full spectrum SAD light therapy. If you are looking for a wake up light to help with SAD, the Nature Bright Sun Bliss or the Aura EnergyUP are much better options.

Price: These lights range in price from around $60 on the low end upwards of about $150. Obviously, the more you pay the more features that are offered. For a less expensive DIY option you can try using existing lamps with holiday light timers, they won’t have the gradual sunrise effect, but for a couple of bucks you can get a similar effect.

Recommendations and Reviews

Best Wake up Light (Overall)

Philips HF3520 Wake-Up Light with Colored Sunrise Simulation

greenamazonPROS: Pleasant light, variety of nice sounds to choose from, you can modify the intensity of the light and volume of the sounds.

CONS: Difficult to set as it has many buttons and it is hard to identify the difference between the buttons.

Need to Know: This is Philips’ best-selling Wake-up Light. This particular model, the HF3520, is one of their more expensive lights, but it offers a colored sunrise simulation and also gives you a choice of 5 natural and calming wake-up sounds, as well as the FM radio. You can also use it as a bedside light that dims to gently send you off to sleep at night.

If you are wondering what it means by a sunrise simulation, it just means that it starts out as dark red, then gradually turns orange, until your room is filled with bright yellow light just before the alarm (if set) goes off. As it is changing color it gradually lights the room as well. FYI there is no replacement bulb available, but the LED lights have a life expectancy of approximately 50 years according to Philips.

What users love: Users love the sunrise simulation feature as well the option to choose one of the nature sound, that make it more pleasant than the beeping of an alarm (which is what on the entry level Phillips model) or a radio.

What could be improved? There are quite a lot of complaints about the button size and placement on these lights. Many users find that the buttons are too small and all look the same and are only marked by tiny gray icons so it is pretty hard to remember which button is for which function.

Good for: People who want to be woken up gently and peacefully before the sun comes up who would also like to have nature sounds rather than a beeping alarm or radio.


Best Wake up Light (Budget)

Philips HF3500/60 Wake-Up Light

greenamazonPROS: Inexpensive, you can also use it as a reading light, you can adjust the brightness.

CONS: No battery backup, the alarm only has only one tone settling which is a high pitched beep.  Some users find the light isn’t bright enough at 200 lux.

Need to Know: This is the entry level version of the Philip Wake-Up light. As a basic model you are only getting the one color in the light compared to the three in the sunrise simulation, the maximum light is 200 lux as opposed to the 300 lux in the HF3520 model. The other big difference is the number of alarm sound options; the HF3520 gives you 5 nature sound options while this model only has the one option of the beep. There is also only one alarm setting, so you can’t have a different setting for weekdays and weekends.

What users love: Most reviewers love using this wake up light as an inexpensive option to help them wake up gradually and peacefully on a cold winter’s morning. Many users find that waking up in this way help gives them energy for the day and it is a nice alternative to a standard alarm.
What could be improved:  Some users would have preferred a brighter light (if you are worried the light won’t be bright enough look at the Philips HF3520 model instead).  Users would also like to see an alternative to the classic annoying alarm clock sound.

Good for: Users on a budget who are looking for a gentle way to wake up.


Best SAD Light Therapy Wake up Light

Nature Bright Sun Bliss 2 in 1 Portable Light Therapy and Wake-Up Light

greenamazonPROS: Inexpensive, gives you benefit of SAD light therapy as well as being able to be used as sunrise simulator alarm clock.

CONS: The button icons are not intuitive

Need to Know: If you are looking for a light therapy wake up light this is a great option. It has 10,000 lux bright lights that mimics sunlight that can help improve your mood and regulate your sleep patterns and circadian rhythms. This light is lightweight and quite small so you can take it with you if you are travelling.

What users love:
Users love that you get both the Light Therapy benefit as well as the wake light light for a relatively inexpensive price.

What could be improved? Reviewers report that the menu icons are not that intuitive – you will have to refer to the manual in order to figure it out which button does what. Some users would also like to see a 2 alarm option added for weekday and weekend schedules.
Good for: Consumers who are looking for a budget wake up light that also includes SAD light therapy.


New and Notable

Aura EnergyUP 2 in 1 Light Therapy and Wake Up Light

greenamazonPROS: You have the option of displaying the clock or turning it off. It comes with a lithium battery backup. Goes up to 10,000 lux but you can adjust to lower levels if needed.

Need to Know: This recently released 2 in 1 light has been getting great reviews and appears to be a great option anyone who is using SAD light therapy. The light comes on easily with one press of a button. The three different light intensity settings are a great way to slowly adjust to the treatment and the timer settings gives the user a wide range of settings. It has a magnetic stand that lets users adjust the position easily.

What users love: Users love the sleek small design, as well as the compact size that makes it very portable. As opposed to come of its competitors many users find this to be a well-designed and well-made product that works extremely well.
What could be improved:  Users would like to be able to set it to only have the light (not the beeping) for the alarm. Some reviewers have reported issues with the plug coming out and causing the lamp to shut off

Other Options:

If you would like to get a wake up light but none of the products listed above meet your needs, here are a few other options that are either on the market or that are being funded through Kickstarter and are in the process of being produced

Wakē alarm – Is a wake up light that uses a targeted wake up system so your partner can sleep in. You can use mobile apps to set it up and run it.

LUMI– Is a wake up light with a sunrise and sunset option. It has 5 sounds to choose from including white noise, rooster call and crashing waves. The display can fade and it also has a battery backup.

Ario– Is a health lamp that you can use as a wake up light in the morning as well as a lamp throughout the day to help increase your energy and relax in the evening.

Napwell – Isn’t a wake up light however it is a napping mask that uses lights to wake you up gently from a nap to help you reduce “sleep inertia,” the feeling of having a headache and grogginess after waking up from a nap.


The Bottom Line

Waking up in the morning can be an unpleasant experience, especially if you are being jolted awake by a super loud ringer. Research seems to show that usinga  light instead of sound will wake you up more pleasantly and help give you more energy for your day.   There are lots of different options if you want to be woken up by light rather than sound. You can purchase artificial lights that you can program to turn on when you want to wake up, or if you would like a more gradual wakeup you can invest in a wake up light. They don’t work for everyone, some users find that they are unable to wake up by the light alone and need to also have some kind of sound option in addition to the light.  Other users have found these lights life changing and swear that they will never go back to waking up using a traditional alarm. People feeling more refreshed and find that it is much easier to get up.