What to Look for When Shopping for an Alarm Clock

In some ways, finding the right alarm clock is a pretty low-stakes endeavor. Does it wake you up when you want it to? Then good. It does what it’s supposed to do. That said, as the science of sleep becomes bigger and bigger business, so too do our options for how to rouse from that sleep. Welcome to the wide world of waking up.

For SELF’s product reviews, we wanted to know: what should you actually look for when buying or testing an alarm clock? That’s why we spoke to several sleep experts to develop criteria that would help us when testing an alarm clock or a sleep device with an alarm functionality, like as a sunrise alarm, and then used that expert criteria whenever testing a relevant product. Read on to find out what we learned, which may help you when shopping for an alarm clock yourself.

The experts we spoke with agreed that what you should look for in an alarm clock is personal—it depends on your specific preferences and needs. If you’re the kind of person who hits snooze a million times and still can’t drag yourself out of bed—possibly to the detriment of functioning, like it means you’re late to work all the time, or aren’t able to tend to your children when they need you—then you should look for an alarm clock that really forces you to wake up and jolts you out of your stupor. Some alarm clocks shake your bed. Others force you to do math problems in order to turn them off. Others make really loud obnoxious noises. If you need a clock to do some really heavy lifting, you should look for one with these features.

On the other hand, if you have an easy enough time getting out of bed but find that waking up in an unpleasant way really impacts your mood for the day, then you’ll want to look for an alarm clock that has a gentler approach. The kind that wakes you up with sweet music, or sounds that slowly get louder over time. Or with light—there are some clocks that grow brighter the closer you get to the time that you’re supposed to wake up, which some people find makes for an easier and less stressful experience, probably because it’s easier to wake up in the light than in the dark.

Do you suffer from insomnia that’s exacerbated by stressing out about what time it is and how little sleep you have left? Then one expert recommended a clock that doesn’t show you the time at all. Meanwhile, if you’re like me, and you do want to know the time but hate having to do any work at all to check it, then an alarm clock that projects the time on the ceiling might be exactly what you need. Again: It’s all a matter of goals.

And then there’s this: One of the experts we spoke with said that, in an ideal world, you’d be getting such high quality and sufficient quantity of sleep that you wouldn’t even need an alarm clock. In that sense, there are some alarm clocks that also come with bells and whistles meant to help you improve your overall sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene includes things like limiting blue light before bed; minimizing time you spend on your phone before bed; going to bed and waking up at a consistent time every day; minimizing distractions while you sleep; and establishing a pre-bed routine that helps you get into the mood for sleep. Any contraptions that can aid in the sleep hygiene department get high marks (as long as the bedtime assistance they offer is genuinely evidence-based, that is.)

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