If you sometimes struggle to get out of bed, finding darkness or bad weather less than inspiring, a wake-up light is a great way to make life a little better in the morning.
The idea is that it helps you wake up gently, rather than with a jolt as your alarm suddenly blasts your bedroom with loud noise. And by slowly filling the room with light before the alarm, you might just find you wake up feeling calmer and happier.
In this review I’ll be looking at the best wake-up lights made by the two main players in the industry – Philips and Lumie. You’ll find high end models with excellent sunrise simulation, as well as simpler options for those on a budget.
Hopefully you’ll find one which shines just enough light to help you get up on the right side of the bed and face the day with a smile.
1) Philips HF3520 Wake-up Light
Best overall wake-up light
Philips are experts in lighting products, and they make a wider range of wake-up lights than any other company. And in some ways they also make the best – with the HF3520 being the one that stands out above the rest.
It excels with a stylish, sturdy design and quality light settings, both in terms of the graduated fading and the hues. For me, what really makes it shine compared to other models is the sunrise simulator.
Many of the cheaper wake-up lights have just a few shades of white which jump noticeably in brightness. This one, however, starts (or finishes) with a deep red, cycling through shades of orange and then yellowy-whites.
- The unit looks both stylish, with a smooth round design.
- It’s heavy and study enough not to fall off the bedside table when you press buttons.
- The sunrise simulator cycles from red to orange to white with 20 incremental brightness levels.
- The maximum brightness of 300 lux should ensure you wake up in the morning.
- You can select the maximum brightness reached, and adjust how long before your chosen alarm time the sunrise effect begins.
- There’s an option of either just light, or light and sound as an alarm.
- You can have a different weekday and weekend alarm.
- There’s a choice of an FM radio or 5 nature sounds, such as birdsong or ocean, to fall asleep or wake up to.
- There’s an easy to use snooze option – just touch anywhere on the face and snooze away.
- It can be used as a bedside lamp, and also as a sunset simulator at bedtime.
- The digital display for the time can be dimmed, but not turned off.
- The buttons on the top aren’t visible from the front, and are quite small. So you either need to look carefully when changing settings or turning the audio alarm off, or learn by touch where they are.
- The nature sounds are on a short loop.
- You can only save one radio station.
- The battery back-up only lasts 7 minutes.
The Philips HF3520 gets the lighting part spot on. As a wake-up light, there are no complaints really – the sunrise simulator is excellent and will give you the best chance to wake up peacefully.
The audio alarm and the controls don’t quite measure up though. It’s by no means the only wake-up light to have sound and interface issues, but it’s surprising considering it’s one of the more expensive models.
Overall though, it does its principle job very well, despite a few issues. So if it’s a gentle sunrise experience you’re really interested in, and you can put up with a less than perfect audio experience and some fiddly buttons, this is one of the best wake-up lights you’ll find.
2) Lumie Bodyclock Starter 30
A pure sunrise simulator with a focus on light rather than sound
Although Philips produce the widest range of wake-up lights, Lumie aren’t far behind and could be considered the experts – especially as they invented the wake-up light.
Based in the UK, they are specialists in medical grade light therapy devices. And the Lumie Bodyclock Starter 30 is used for helping people cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Like the Philips, it also has a pleasant sunrise simulator, shifting gently through a range of warm colors. It doesn’t have much in the way of an audio alarm – just a simple beep – and so has less buttons and instructions.
Interestingly, it’s also the lowest priced of all the Lumie wake-up lights, yet in many ways remains the best value.
- It has an attractive, smooth semi-circular design.
- A 30 minute sunrise simulator helps you wake up slowly.
- The hues of light are warm, cycling from red through to white.
- A 30 minute sunset simulator works in reverse to help you relax and fall asleep.
- The digital display can be dimmed or completely turned off at night.
- You can select the brightness and use it as a bedside light.
- There are only 3 buttons, sensibly placed on the front. So once you understand how they work, it’s easy to set the alarm or change the settings from your bed.
- Despite having a nice exterior design, the buttons and display seem a bit dated.
- The halogen bulb can get hot and is more expensive to replace.
- With just 3 buttons, you need to spend some time to understand what order to press them in to adjust the settings.
- You have to reset the alarm every night.
- The alarm is a basic beep, with no radio or other sounds.
- It only has a 24 hour clock.
Considering how often wake-up lights are criticized for poor audio features, it might have been a clever move for Lumie to strip it down to a mere beeping noise. Though it’s a shame they didn’t provide at least a couple of alternative alarm sounds.
What you really get then with the Bodyclock Starter 30 is a pure sunrise simulator. I do think the Philips has a more modern design, a wider spectrum of sunrise colors and more flexibility in its settings.
The Lumie, on the other hand, keeps things relatively simple. And at a much lower price, is worth considering if a standard 30 minute wake-up routine sounds about right to you.
Note that it’s manufactured in the UK, so can be considerably more expensive if you live in the US and require a voltage converter.
Available at: amazon.co.uk
3) Philips HF3506
Good mid-range option with easy controls, 10 light settings and 3 alarms
There are several wake-up lights in the Philips HF3000 series, with often quite subtle differences between them. There are differences though, with the 3506 making some key improvements to the 3500 for example, with extra buttons on the front which improves the usability considerably.
Unlike the larger 3520, these smaller models have the physical shape which is so often copied nowadays – the circular face with a fixed prop to keep it upright.
Although it doesn’t have the same range of features and light options as the 3520, the 3506 does solve one or two problems even that more expensive model has – namely the accessibility of the buttons and controls.
- It has a minimalist, contemporary design and is very easy to use.
- There are 10 brightness settings, with the maximum being bright enough to help you wake up.
- You can set how long the gradual sunrise takes – starting up to 30 minutes before the final brightness is reached or audio alarm.
- You can choose the maximum brightness reached.
- There’s a choice of 2 different bird sounds or radio as the final alarm. Or you can turn down the volume and only wake up with light.
- The bird sounds will increase in volume over 90 seconds to the maximum volume you set.
- You can snooze for 9 minutes with a simple tap of the top.
- The digital display has 4 brightness options.
- You can use it as a bedside lamp, choosing 1 of the 10 brightness settings.
- It has easy to use touch-sensitive controls, conveniently placed on the front.
- It’s fairly light, so even though it has anti-slip rubber feet, it might move around on the bedside table if you push the buttons hard.
- You have to reset the alarm every day.
- No battery back-up, so if you unplug it or lose power, it will lose its settings.
- You can dim the display, but not turn it off completely.
The Philips HF3506 is a good mid-range option, with a decent number of adjustable brightness settings, an easy control system and a few choices of alarm sounds.
It doesn’t have the same quality of sunset simulation as the high-end models, but it should still do the job of helping you wake up slowly and more happily than a sudden alarm.
It can be confusing working out the differences between the models, with some small differences between the 3500, 3505, 3506 and 3606, for example.
So my advice would be to look carefully before buying as you might find you only have 1 alarm instead of 3, less buttons or a black case instead of silver.
Of that particular series though, I think the HF3506 is the best so far in terms of features, design and usability.
4) Lumie bodyclock active 250
Wide range of light and sound features with longer timers
Although the Lumie bodyclock starter 30 is better value for money, it does lack some features. The 250 is a considerable upgrade, with several extra features and a more modern design and display.
Unlike most wake-up light alarm clocks, it not only focuses on waking, but on the going to sleep part too. Along with a slow sunset simulator, it also has white noise or wave sounds to help you sleep.
The light quality is again what really stands out though. For me, the slow fade is excellent and the warmth of the light projected is what really matters at the end – or start – of the day.
- The sunset and sunrise have 6 different timer settings from 15 to 90 minutes – a wider range than the other models.
- The light fading is slow, subtle and ranges from a warm dim glow through to a very bright light, which should wake you up feeling relaxed.
- It has a choice of alarm sounds including FM radio, beeping and 2 nature sounds.
- You can listen to white noise or wave sounds at night to help you sleep.
- It can be used as a nightlight for reading, with a choice of brightness or a slow fade.
- It has a security nightlight feature.
- The display turns off when the alarm is set, or can be faded with a simple button combination.
- It has a snooze feature.
- A battery back-up means the settings are kept if it loses power.
- The instructions and button combinations can be complicated until you get used to them.
- It only has a 24 hour clock on the digital display.
- The recorded sounds are on a very short loop.
- You have to set the alarm every day.
- It can get hot because of the halogen bulb.
The Lumie bodyclock active 250 at first glance seems very similar to the starter 30. What you get for the considerably higher price that actually matters is an improved design, extra sounds and more timer options.
Personally, I’m not sure those features are really worth the extra cost. My feeling is that as with all wake-up lights, it does the light part very well, but comes up short in the sound department.
While the design is definitely an improvement on the starter 30, it still doesn’t look as nice as the Philips. I think if you like your technology to have as many features as possible, and you want a choice of backup audio alarms, it’s worth considering.
Otherwise I’d probably save money and stick with the Starter 30, or think about the more impressive sunrise simulation of the Philips.