Let me hereby state that I have not, and have never been, a morning person. I am constantly in awe of my partner for his ability to rise at 5am and tote his camera off to capture the sunrise, or my roommate’s knack for waking up bright eyed and with a brain already firing on all cylinders. I have been a night owl since—without exaggeration—birth. The only thing that tricked me into dozing as an infant was the motion of a vehicle; my mother has memories of strapping me into the backseat and driving aimlessly around the city until I slipped into a blissful slumber. (That is, until we reached a red light; as soon as we came to a halt, I would wake and screech with the timbre of a tooth saw orchestra.)
As an adult, I’ve ticked my way down the insomnia remedy starter-kit: melatonin, no screens after 9pm, screens made sepia by f.lux when the former failed, exercise, no caffeine after noon, baths with Epsom salts, breathing and meditation. And while I have gotten much better at going to sleep (something I attribute in part to improved air quality, the result of a new home and the thirty-odd plants that I have filled it with), I still struggle with waking up. Whether it’s for an ordinary day’s work or a flight or a day of relaxing, nothing has helped me to rise and, so help me, shine.
But with technological advancements come baby steps in eradicating bad sleeping habits…in the form of fancy alarm clocks. Hey, we as a species have launched a shuttle into interstellar space and are on the cusp of technology that allows us to read books without opening them, but a fancy alarm clock sure sounds promising!
The innovative alarm clock industry has been going remarkably strong, despite the fact that a survey from 2011 found that almost 60% of 16-34 year olds had already traded in the traditional bedside alarm clock for a smartphone alarm. But this has not deterred people from developing alarm clocks that fly, talk to you, require blunt force, demand answers to complex mathematical problems, or refuse to turn off until you’ve chased them down.
I recently had the opportunity to test two products developed with a little more thought given to circadian rhythm, REM cycles, and our thirst for sunlight.
The Philips Wake-up Light
This product is reasonably sleek and its orb-like design is clearly inspired by the sun. Fitting, as the Wake-up Light is designed to mimic a sunrise and wake you gradually, easing you out of deep slumber much more gently than a sudden burst of the commonly relied-on iPhone Marimba ringtone.
Like so many products these days, the Wake-up Light is a minimal, Apple-esque white. As pleasing as it may be on the eye, those of us who tend to be clumsy in the morning ought to beware; the combination of its disk shape and lightweight design make it easy to knock over. (Though if you’re the sort who is regularly tempted to silence your alarm clock with a hammer, this may be a selling feature.)
The packaging promises three different options for audio wake-up; two “natural sounds” and FM radio. While the packaging is unclear as to what these natural sounds are, they turned out to be two variations of a bird soundscape; one is somewhat higher in pitch, while the chirping of the second is interspersed with what sounded like an owl.
The light itself is quite lovely and really does feel like natural daylight. What begins as a faint pinkish glow gradually warms in brightness and intensity for thirty minutes prior to the scheduled wake up time.
Upon the first night of testing, the light itself failed to wake me. This may point to the fact that my bedroom has floor to ceiling windows and quite a bit of morning light enters through our white curtains anyhow, making the experience of using the light no different from that to which my body is already acclimatized. I imagine this product would be much more ideal for those with black out curtains (though this begs the question of why one would choose to block out natural light and replace it with a simulated variety), those whose bedrooms don’t allow for much natural light, or as a reprieve in the long winter months when the sun doesn’t rise until many of us are already at work.
The second issue is that, based on our room configuration, it made the most sense to place the Wake-up Light on my partner’s nightstand. This may have attributed to its failure to wake me. Admittedly, the light did succeed to wake me when I placed it on my own nightstand, but this points to a flaw in the product’s design in that it’s difficult for this to be a shared device. I can’t imagine that many people would like the thought of being reliant on two of these – but then again, we choose to be reliant on our individual cell phones, so there’s certainly an argument to be made there.
The sounds themselves are so real that on the first morning, I’d forgotten about the alarm and woke with the initial thought that it was nice to be able to hear birds for once (living in an eleventh floor condo, I rarely do). This little slice of nature, despite not being real, was a pleasant way in which to start the daily urban grind. However, on the second morning, I found myself groaning the minute the birds began to chirp. Obviously this is subjective, but at least resenting my iPhone stock ringtones has no impact on my other sensory experiences in life; I’m not sure that growing to resent bird sounds over time for their constant association with forced rousing is something that many of us would deem positive.
The Philips is available for purchase here here.
The Sensorwake Olfactory Alarm Clock
The Olfactory Alarm Clock was created in 2014 by Guillaume Rolland and Ivan Skybyk. It’s come a long way from its humble beginnings in Guillaume’s garage, with a successful Kickstarter campaign and a coveted win at the Google Science Fair.
This French-made product is a trifecta of sensory experience, focusing not only on light and sound, but also scent. The verbiage on the website gives some insight to its inspiration:
“We strongly link memory and emotions to smell due to these areas being located closely in our brain! Our pleasant scents are all carefully selected in order to awaken the most pleasant emotions as well as sweet memories that connect you to these scents.”
The product itself is a small cube that doesn’t require much real estate on a nightstand. I have always been interested in the link between scent and memory; every now and then the aroma of soap or food or cut grass transports me to a different time and place. There’s a particular woman’s perfume—I have never been able to figure out what it is, despite exhaustive searching through department stores—that, for some inexplicable reason, immediately places me on the steps of the Royal Court in London. Odour is a powerful thing, and I was particularly interested in how it could be used to wake us. Most of us are already familiar with the effect of coffee aromas alone for their ability to get us out of bed.
While the Sensorwake comes with a number of scent option (purchased as capsules that supposedly last for thirty uses), I sampled the Desert Oasis. At the set time, the Sensorwake begins to emit fragrance into the air. I can’t say that I personally was a fan of the Desert Oasis; it was vaguely reminiscent of drug store roll-on perfumes. As it emits these fumes, the alarm clock itself makes a whirring noise that sounds almost like a far-away hairdryer. I can see this being quite a pleasant way to wake up if you were a fan of the scent in question; croissant, espresso, and toast are all replacement options that I imagine would make the morning ritual feel like waking to the aroma of breakfast as a child, or perhaps room service in a hotel. (Whether over time the scent would become an annoying teaser of foods that don’t actually exist is something that I can’t speak to!)
In comparison to the Philips Wake-up Light, the light function of the Olfactory left me somewhat disappointed. Rather than mimicking natural light, the lighting is a purple-hued color that pulsates with increased frequency the longer you choose to ignore it. I can’t help but wonder as to the choice of purple, it generally not being a shade we associate with morning light. Glow sticks, yes. Sunrise, no.
The aural alarm itself, compared to the other sensory innovations here, left something to be desired and felt almost like an afterthought. Worse than any of the stock iPhone alarm options, the Sensorwake endeavors to rouse you with a tinny, computerized beeping in ascending and descending scales. This annoyed me, but to be fair, it did force me to a sitting position. For those of us who require intense discipline in the morning, perhaps this is the brilliance of the design; either get out of bed when the aroma and light prompt you, or be punished with the musical styling of a 1990s digital wristwatch. The choice is yours, so choose wisely.
This device is still in pre-orders and will become available in November.
My ideal alarm clock is a combination of the superior qualities of both products: the gentle light of the Philips and the cozy aromas of a Parisian breakfast from the Sensorwake. But hey, if we’re going to get inventive, let’s stop focusing on the means of waking and go straight to the root of the issue by re-engineering mornings. Please? Scientists?…Anyone?