To say waking up in the morning has always been a challenge for me would be an understatement. For years, I had my “process” that consisted of a series of alarms at different time intervals, often taking me 30 minutes just to get out of bed. While those extra minutes drifting in and out of sleep in between hitting the snooze button wouldn’t actually make me feel more rested, in the moment I could rationalize anything to myself. “It makes no sense to get up at 6:32; that’s such a random number. I should just go back to sleep until 6:45.” After moving to New York in the late fall, I found that the (arguably) mild winter mornings were darker and colder than I was used to, and my new commute had me waking up earlier. So, I decided to make a change.
When browsing holiday deals, I found a wake-up light which uses a combination of light therapy and sound to help you wake naturally. The combination alarm clock and light simulates the sunrise over a period of 30 minutes, transitioning from a low red light through orange to bright yellow. At your set wake up time, one of several natural sounds turns on, gradually increasing in volume. Similarly, it has a sunset simulation function, which uses decreasing light and sound to help you drift to sleep naturally. The first morning I used it, I rolled away from the light and put my pillow over my head. But in the two months since, I have found that I am consistently able to get up faster while feeling less groggy. Now, I frequently find myself waking up at the end of the sunrise, just before the sound kicks in.
We often overlook the role the surrounding environment plays in our overall health and well-being. Light, in particular, has a significant impact on the quality of our sleep. Everyone knows not to sleep with the lights on, but we also ought to consider the type of light we are exposed to when transitioning into and out of sleep. For example, researchers have found that the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep and helps regulate our sleep/wake cycle, can be impacted by different types of light wavelengths. Specifically, blue light has been shown to suppress melatonin, making us feel more awake and alert (Wright 2004). While this effect might be desired in the morning or mid-afternoon, looking at electronic devices that emit this type of light, such as televisions, cell phones, and computers, at night may impact your ability to fall asleep or the quality of your sleep.
Furthermore, our cortisol levels, a stress hormone, gradually rise as we wake up, known as the cortisol awakening response. A study found that participants who had been exposed to an artificial sunrise via a bedside light had significantly higher cortisol levels immediately after awakening than those who woke up in the dark (Thorn 2004). Also, research has indicated that subjects who are exposed to a dawn simulation in the last 30 minutes of sleep have improved subjective well-being, mood, and cognitive performance (Gabel 2013).
While I have definitely noticed a difference in my ability to wake up in the morning, my wake-up light has not suddenly turned me into a morning person. I’d be lying if I said that I never hit the snooze button, but when I do it’s always just once. Then, it’s up to me to take the next step: get out of bed.
Wright, H. Lack, L. Kennaway, D. (2004). Differential effects of light wavelength in phase advancing the melatonin rhythm. Journal of Pineal Research, 36(2): 140-144.
Thorn, L. Hucklebridge, F. Esgate, A. Evans, P. Clow, A. (2004). The effect of dawn simulation on the cortisol response to awakening in healthy participants. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 29(7), 925-930.
Gabel, V., Maire, M., Reichert, C. F., Chellappa, S. L., Schmidt, C., Hommes, V., et al. (2013). Effects of Artificial Dawn and Morning Blue Light on Daytime Cognitive Performance, Well-being, Cortisol and Melatonin Levels. Chronobiology International, 30(8), 988–997.