Gentle Alarm Clock Alternatives

Is the shrieking sound of a loud alarm clock really the best way to start your day? Wake up with light, vibration, nature sounds, or scent with these gentle alarm clock alternatives.

What is the first thing you hear when you wake up? Is it an insistently piercing blast of noise from your bedside alarm clock?

Are you, literally, alarmed into consciousness each day?

When you are roused from sleep by a strident sound that is designed to be alarming, your endocrine system dutifully delivers a burst of adrenaline to your body, preparing you for "fight or flight" in response to the urgent message of a crisis at hand. You are starting your day in a state of acute stress.

Is the alarm clock's loud and abrasive noise just an unavoidable part of life in the modern world? You may not have the luxury most days of sleeping in until you naturally feel like getting up, but you can, if you like, choose a kinder way to tell your body that it's time to get up. Some gentle alarm clock alternatives feature softer, more peaceful sounds, and others nudge you awake through one of your other senses — sight, touch, or smell — rather than your sense of hearing.

Some Intriguing Alarm Clock Alternatives

A nature sounds alarm clock,

which plays recorded or simulated sounds from nature, such as ocean surf, waterfalls, running rivers, songbirds, crickets, or heartbeats. Sometimes other sounds are offered as well, such as wind chimes or drumming rhythms. A nice bonus is that you can also use it to fall asleep to a soothing soundscape.

A chime clock,

which features actual chimes that are rung, for a peaceful and harmonious sound. An example is the Zen Alarm Clock.

A sunrise clock or dawn simulator,

which starts with a dim glow that gradually lights up to full brightness over the course of half an hour. This is a very natural and healthy way to awaken, since the sleep hormone melatonin is dissipated by light. It is even more effective if you sleep in near-total darkness, which promotes melatonin production, easing you into restful sleep. Another benefit of a sunrise clock is that it allows your body to awaken any time during the "sunrise," at a natural point during its sleep cycle.

An aromatherapy clock,

which begins wafting an aroma such as coffee, lavender, pine, or eucalyptus. You load it with aromatherapy beads with the fragrance of your choice.

A vibrating alarm clock,

such as the Shake Awake. It's often marketed to deaf users, but anyone can use it. Some models are vibrating devices that you clip onto your pillow; others come with a more powerful shaking unit that you put under your mattress. Pillows with timed vibrators built in are also available, or you can wear a vibrating wristwatch. Some people who have trouble waking up with even the loudest alarm clocks are able to wake up to a vibration. And it's perfect if you need to wake up but you don't want to disturb others who are in the same room with you.

A sleep phase monitor.

The idea here is that the device detects your sleep phases and wakes you at a point when you are in a shallow phase of sleep, within the time window that you set. (Or at the end of the time window, whichever comes first.) You eliminate some of the grogginess you often feel when you are dragged awake out of a deep sleep phase. Examples are:
  • The Sleeptracker watch, $100 to $180 (US dollars). You wear it as a wristwatch, and it detects your body movements while you sleep, using them to determine when you are in a shallow sleep phase and thus more ready to be awakened. It has a vibration alarm mode.

  • The aXbo alarm clock, $220 to $350. This device also tracks your sleep phase by detecting your sleep movements, using a terry cloth wrist sensor that transmits the information wirelessly to the tabletop clock. You can choose from various wake-up sounds, including nature sounds and musical melodies, at the volume you choose.

  • The Zeo Personal Sleep Coach, $200 to $400. This is a more sophisticated version of the sleep phase tracker concept; it uses a headband to track and record your brain's electrical signals. One of its features is that it can wake you up during a transition into or out of REM sleep within your selected time frame, using music or nature sounds.

A number of gentle alarm clock products combine several sensory modes, such as the Peaceful Progression wake-up clock from Hammacher Schlemmer, which is a sunrise clock with nature sounds and aromatherapy. And even a silent alarm clock will also typically offer a traditional ringing or beeping sound as a backup, in case the gentler mode is not enough to penetrate through to your sleeping mind.

Your Turn!

What's your favorite wake-up strategy?

How do you wake up best? Do you use a "gentle" alarm clock, or have another non-traditional way of waking up? What's your best non-alarming wake-up technique?

Send in your favorite wake-up tip. The best tips received will be published on this page.

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