If you find that you always wake up feeling tired and groggy - especially in the darker winter months - then you might want to invest in a light alarm - a.k.a. a wake-up light or dawn simulator.
These are hybrids of alarm clocks and lamps, designed to wake you up with a steady build up of light that simulates a sunrise - complete with a shift of hue from reds and orange to brighter yellows and whites over the duration. The idea is that your body will react to the increasing light, even while you're asleep, preparing itself to wake up feeling naturally refreshed.
Light alarm buying advice
Not all light alarms are created equal, and there are a few key features to look out for - mostly to do with customisability. Let's break them down.
The first thing to look for is how much control you get over the the actual light. Basic light alarms might just let you set an alarm time and that's it, but pricier models might give you control over the light intensity - the Philips Somneo has a scale of 25 different intensities - or the duration of the sunrise effect.
Easy to overlook, sound settings are arguably even more important than light customisability. While light alarms should help you wake up naturally from light alone, understandably most of us worry a bit about sleeping through it, so almost every light alarm includes some sort of optional alarm sound too.
What's important is to look at the sort of options you get here. Simple alarms might just include a beep - but this sort of abrasive noise is probably exactly what you want to get away from. Better models might include a range of soothing sound effects including birdsong or waves, an FM radio, or an AUX input so that you can connect your phone to provide audio through that.
You also want to look out for optional sunset modes, which do the inverse of the light alarm: slowly dimming light to help your body naturally fall asleep. Again, look out for customisable settings, optional sound effects, or even breathing-focused modes to help you soothe yourself to sleep.
Finally, there are simple other features you might hope to see. Some are just basic alarm things that aren't always guaranteed: easy snooze modes or the option to schedule alarms to specific days. Otherwise you'll want to make sure you can save any customised alarm settings easily, and look out for other nice-to-haves like a USB port for charging a phone, or an easy way to switch the lamp on and use it as a reading light or nightlight.
Finally, one point of distinction: light alarms are related to, but not the same as, SAD lights. SAD lamps are designed to treat the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, and are required to emit at least 2,500 lux to be medically certified for the purpose.
Many light alarms have been clinically tested and shown to help with SAD symptoms and other seasonal disorders, but they're only a complement to a proper SAD light, not a replacement. We've also reviewed the best SAD lamps, so take a look if you want our recommendations.
Philips Somneo Sleep and Wake-Up Light
The Philips Somneo is arguably the best light alarm on the market, and is only really held back by its high price - though it's arguably worth it for the feature set and the wild space age design.
Instead of physical buttons there are simple touchscreen controls built into the light itself, which you can use to customise your sunrise and sunset settings, with a range of 25 light intensities, various timings, and soothing noises from birdsong to temple gongs.
You can save two different alarm presets, though can't schedule them for specific days, so you'll have to remember to switch off your weekday alarm when Saturday rolls around.
In addition to a sunset mode for falling asleep there's a light-guided breathing mode to help you fall asleep. Beyond that, there are modern touches throughout: tapping the top to snooze, a dedicated low intensity light if you wake up in the middle of the night, FM radio, AUX input if you want to fall asleep to sounds from your phone, and even a USB-A slot to charge your phone too.
At the end of the day, this is an almost £200/$200 alarm clock, which is going to be more than most can justify spending. But if you can get over that hurdle, this is about as good as light alarms get.
Lumie Bodyclock Shine 300
Erring on the expensive side - though coming in cheaper than the Philips - is this fully featured light alarm from Lumie. It sits in the middle of the company's Bodyclock range and offers granular control over your wake up and bedtime routines, with a mixture of sounds and light settings at your disposal.
It has mixed LEDs that shine realistic combinations of white, orange and red to create a sunlight effect that isn’t too blinding and can increase and decrease gradually over 15-90 minutes at up to 20 different light levels.
It works best as a wake-up alarm. We opted for the maximum brightness scale over 30 minutes and found we were waking up naturally, also setting an alarm at the end of the time as a safe measure (we still don’t trust we’ll wake up with just the light!).
The alarm can be a beep or preset sounds like a stream train (weird), ping pong (also weird), waves (more conventional), or the in-built FM radio. Annoyingly if you turn it off at the mains all the settings reset to factory, which is pretty annoying, and the buttons on the unit mean it’s a fiddle to set up but once it’s working it’s a great product – there are just cheaper options.
Lenovo Smart Clock
The Lenovo Smart Clock isn't a light alarm first and foremost - it's just a mini smart display, powered by the Google Assistant.
Still, it does also function as a rudimentary light alarm, slowly brightening the screen itself ahead of the alarm going off. It's not as bright as the other alarms in this list, and has less variation in tone, so the light alone is unlikely to wake you up entirely, but it does help.
Still, it means you get all the other features of the Google Assistant - voice controls, calendar, checking the weather, listening to music, and more. This is basically a Google Home Mini with a screen, so there's a huge amount of functionality that none of the other light alarms on the market right now can match.
Read our full Smart Clock review to find out more.
Lumie Zest SAD & wake-up light
Whilst most of the products on this list are dedicated light alarms, the Lumie Zest is a little different. It functions as both a SAD light box (rated as a class IIa medical device), whilst also having the option to gradually brighten to wake you up in the morning with blue-enriched white LED that emulates natural daylight.
The Zest has a 10,000 lux output and adjustable brightness levels to suit your tastes. The wake-up light has a 15 or 30 minute sunrise option, along with a snooze option. It cycles through the brightness very naturally and doesn't feel jarring to wake up to.
You can set an optional beeping sound, but you can't choose any other audio options as you can with a dedicated light alarm (and the beeping isn't particularly soothing). For light therapy, you can set it on a choice of brightness and timer settings, and use the adjustable stand to position it towards your face for the most effective light therapy.
Though its compact, it does need to be plugged in all the time. It doesn't quite have all the fancy features that other light alarms on this list have - but the ability to double up as a SAD lamp make this a great hybrid option for someone who wishes to try out different forms of light therapy.
Groov-e Light Curve Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock with Radio
Looking for a light alarm that get's the job done without breaking the bank? The Light Curve Wake-up Light from Groov-e fills that bracket, with a few extra nifty touches. You can use both sunset and sunrise options to decrease/increase your light's brightness over ten settings over a period of either 10, 20 or 30 minutes. However, the shift between the brightness levels is not as smooth compared to pricey rivals.
With the sunrise option, you can also add an accompanying audio - choosing between the FM radio or one of the pre-programmed sounds on the light. Most of these are instrumental-based, and unfortunately there are no nature or ambient sounds which are available on other lamps.
This budget light alarm also doubles up as a mood light, with seven colours that rotate - or the choice to set it on your preferred shade. None of the other rivals offer this feature, so whilst the Groov-e falls behind on some elements, this is actually quite a unique selling point.
The actual light itself isn't anywhere near as bright as rivals, but it's enough to produce a decent level of brightness. All in all, if you're looking for a light alarm on the cheap and don't mind the minor niggles, this is a great option.
Amazon Echo Show 5
Like the Lenovo, the Echo Show 5 is not a dedicated light alarm. But its Sunrise Effect increases brightness to do exactly that. It starts 15 minutes before your alarm time (but this is restricted to alarms between 4 and 9am).
This, along with alarm tones which can be set to gradually increase in volume, should help to gently wake you. The same comments about the Lenovo Smart Clock apply to the Echo Show 5: it's not as bright as a specialised light alarm because it's really just a 5.5in LCD screen, and therefore may not be as effective if you're a deep sleeper.
But it offers similar advantages: Alexa is built in and is a genuinely useful assistant. The interface has been updated, too, to make it easier to access and control your smart home devices, but they can be controlled using your voice as well, of course.
The speaker sounds good enough for listening to music in the bedroom and there's a Bluetooth so you can stream music from your phone. Although there's a built-in camera, a slider on top lets you cover it up for privacy.
Read our full Echo Show 5 review.
Lumie Bodyclock Luxe 700FM
Right at the top end of the light alarm range is the Bodyclock Luxe, which comes with an FM radio, bluetooth speakers, over 20 sounds, sunset and sunrise settings and a low-blue light feature for the evenings.
Setting the alarm is relatively user friendly to do, and you can customise different times for different days. The duration of each sunrise and sunset mode can be adjusted, and you can choose from a range of natural sounds and ambient noise to create the atmosphere you want - one of which includes a café noise, if that's your sort of thing.
The actual light is extremely warm and mimics the sunset range very well due to it's combination of different coloured LEDs (low-blue white, blue-enriched white, orange and red). You can also keep the lamp on as a night light on very low, should that be useful.
The bluetooth speaker allows you to add in custom sounds to wake up to, but it's also the main factor in knocking up the price of the Bodyclock Luxe. It's great to have a product that boasts an extra feature, but there are other Lumie light alarms that are extremely similar for a lot cheaper - so if a Bluetooth speaker isn't a dealbreaker, we'd consider something like the Bodyclock Shine first.
Lumie Bodyclock Spark 100
If you like the sound of the Shine 300 but don't quite want to spend that much, you might want to consider the Spark 100, a cheaper model in the same Bodyclock range.
You can use it either as a light alarm to wake up or with a sunset mode to go to sleep, with customisable light intensity over the 30-minute modes.
Unlike the Shine 300 you can't change the duration of either the sunrise or sunset, and the audio options are also more limited: the only wake-up option is a beep, with none of the soothing waves or FM radio options available.
The more annoying omission is the inability to set an alarm schedule. While you can save a default time, you'll still need to remember to turn the alarm on every night before you go to sleep - enough of a risk that we can't imagine relying exclusively on this as your daily alarm.
The Spark 100 will get the job done though, and at less than £100 it's an affordable, no-frills option for people who just want a basic light alarm and don't mind missing out on fancy sound effects.
Philips Wake-up Light
The Philips Wake-up Light is one of the most aesthetically-pleasing lamps on the list, with a large bright face that changes naturally through a simulation of warm colours, ranging from red to bright yellow.
Like most of its rivals, this lamp comes with FM radio and a list of natural sounds to wake up to. However, only seven options are available on the Philips Wake-up Light, meaning it doesn't have as much choice as rivals (and one of the options is a group of cows mooing, which is kind of bizarre).
If you wake up in the night and need to find your way around, you can tap the lamp twice to activate the midnight light function, which is an unobtrusive orangey-glow that won't disturb your cycle too much. The display brightness is also self-adjusting, so if your room is quite dark, the lamp will change to suit the atmosphere.
This wasn't the most straightforward lamp to use - I particularly had issues trying to turn off the radio turning on automatically whenever I set the lamp to the sunset cycle. After a few days with the product I managed to get to grips with it, but there are more user-friendly lamps out there for around the same price point.