A few years ago, I started paying more attention to my sleep: how easily I fell asleep, how soundly I slept, and how easily I awoke in the morning. I noticed (perhaps unsurprisingly) that it was much easier for me to wake up early during the summer months than in the winter. Even on nights when I would go to bed at 3 or 4 AM, I would still find myself waking naturally at 8 AM (much to my dismay). I discovered that I awoke at an almost eerily consistent 30 minutes after the sun rose.

After taking to the internet, I learned that our bodies naturally produce a sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin as the day comes to a close to help us wind down and prepare for bed. Interestingly enough, the body knows when to secret that hormone based off the amount (and type) of light hitting photoreceptors our eyes. Less light (especially less blue light—the type emitted by the sun during the middle of the day) means “time to sleep.”

Knowing this, then, explains why televisions, computers, smartphones, and other blue-light-emitting screens are messing with our sleep. If you stare into a screen for the hours leading up to bedtime, your body holds off on the melatonin, and you have a harder time falling asleep. You may have been awake for a long time, but those photoreceptors in your eyes are still telling your body it’s noon. That’s why I started using apps like f.lux (and now Apple’s own built-in Night Shift for iOS and Mac devices) to help me get better sleep.

SO. If your body takes its cues from the amount of light around you on how sleepy to be, it makes sense why, no matter what time I go to bed, I wake up when the sun comes up.

Okay, so just go to bed when the sun sets and wake when it rises, right? Hardly. In the wintertime, it gets dark around 5 where I live, and the sun doesn’t rise until 8. That doesn’t play nicely with most people’s work schedules, or their life in general. With my morning routine, I need to be up by 6 or 6:30.

Enter the wake-up light. ☀ 

This thing is seriously a game-changer.

I bought the older version of the Philips Wake-Up Light (but there are currently cheaper options like this one and this one) and have used it for years.

It’s a pretty simple setup; you set your alarm and the brightness of the lamp, and the light will gradually brighten over a 30- or 15-minute timeframe, ending at full brightness by the time your alarm goes off. My experience is, it works remarkably well. Almost too well, as I consistently wake up “naturally,” 15 minutes before my alarm sounds.

If you struggle to get up in the mornings (especially if it’s still dark in your room), try this. Worth every penny.

Photo by David Mao.

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