How to Build Your Own Sunrise Alarm Clock with Smart Light Bulbs
In my first apartment, I lived in a windowless room. Technically, it wasn't even really a bedroom – it was a home office. But, New York City real estate being as expensive as it is, I thought the large room was “a good deal”, moved in and quickly got the shock of a lifetime.
It turns out humans need light to function properly!
I felt myself going crazy in the long winter months when I'd wake up in complete darkness, head to work under dreary grey skies and leave the office well after sunset.
It took a me while to realize the issue. I thought it might have been seasonal affective disorder but eventually realized that light (or rather, the lack of it) was behind it all. Which I guess the two are related.
Biologically our bodies are wired to wake up with the sun and with shorter days in winter, our bodies receive less light which can disrupt our circadian clocks. Without much light, our bodies produce more melatonin, the sleep hormone, and that annoying groggy feeling ends up lasting the entire day.
Eventually, I bought a sunrise alarm clock to help regulate my sleep. If the absence of light could affect me so much, maybe introducing light would help.
Sunrise alarm clocks gradually brighten over a period of time to simulate dawn. The one I used at the time even had soothing white noise sounds and chirping bird calls to sound the alarm. It definitely helped but I also moved out of that windowless room as soon as possible and the clock broke during my move.
Smart Light Bulbs
While it's been years since that tiny apartment, I found myself thinking about light therapy recently. It's winter again and I noticed my sleep schedule was completely out of whack.
After seeing some of the new smart light bulbs on the market, I tried out some Brilli home lights. The Charge Up blue light came in handy last fall, when construction work on my building covered all the windows and blocked all the light into the apartment. I definitely felt much more productive and energetic and it got me re-thinking all the lighting in my home.
Waking up “early” has always been a sore spot.
Anyone who knows me in real life knows I love to sleep. I usually get about 10 hours of sleep a night and am rarely awake before 11am. It's something I've been trying to work on… wouldn't I be more productive if I woke up at 6am? Why can I never fall asleep before 2am? I'm insanely jealous of people who only need 4 hours of sleep a night!
I didn't really plan on buying another sunrise alarm clock since I don't really think I need one. My current place gets a lot of natural light – it's the reason I moved in in the first place. Then I heard about smart lights.
At first I thought they were gimmicky. A light that you can voice or remote control to turn on and off? Groundbreaking… But then I thought, what if I could program the lights to turn on in order to wake me up, in a simulation of a sunrise alarm clock?
Sunrise Light Bulbs
There are lots of lighting companies that make smart light bulbs:
Philips created the original smart bulbs.
Their Hue system is one of the most advanced lighting kits, where you can select color schemes based on your photos or use multiple lights together to create a scene. Hue supports the most smart home platforms, like Amazon Alexa, Google Asssistant and Apple HomeKit. They also make cool vintage lights if you use exposed or industrial style lamps.
The downside? Price and the Hub system.
Philips bulbs need a ‘bridge' in order for the bulbs to communicate and up until recently, you had to buy a relatively expensive kit to get started with their smart bulbs. As of 2020, Philips smart bulbs are Bluetooth enabled so you can connect the lights directly to your phone for basic controls. But, if you want to use the more advanced features you still need the Bridge.
I didn't want to have to deal with an extra piece of equipment so instead I purchased these LED smart lights from Amazon. They don't require a hub and were a fraction of the price.
Here's how I did it.
How do Smart Light Bulbs Work
I planned to use my overhead ceiling light fixture as my ‘sunrise alarm clock'. Since there isn't an outlet in the ceiling, it was more convenient to get smart lights that didn't require a hub.
This particular brand of smart bulbs is compatible with voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
But, you can also control the smart lights with your phone using the company's Smart Life app (available for both iPhone and Android). That's how I use it!
Installing the Smart Light Bulbs over Wifi
The installation process was pretty straightforward.
First download the company's app onto your phone. For the bulbs I bought, the app is called Smart Life on the Apple store. You'll want to create an account via email or phone number.
Then screw in the LED smart bulbs into the lamp. They'll start to flicker right away, which means the lights are in “pairing mode”. Open the app and follow the step by step instructions to pair the smart bulbs with your home wifi network or bluetooth. It took about 5 minutes!
The Smart LED bulb had a lot of fun features where you could adjust the brightness, the light temperature or even add color.
But the best feature is the scheduling.
Scheduling Smart Bulbs as Sunrise Alarm Clocks
Most smart bulbs have a scheduling option, where you can set the lights to turn on at any time of day, on any day of the week. By setting the lights to turn on and gradually brighten, you can create your own wake up alarm.
Here's how to do it with the Teckin smart LED bulbs.
1. Decide when you want to wake up and then work backwards.
For example, I want to wake up at 8am but will create a lighting schedule for the 40 minutes prior.
You can create the schedule for whatever period you like. A typical sunrise clock has a 30 minute wake up schedule, but since we're manually creating this “sunrise alarm” with smart bulbs, you can create as long or short a session as you like.
I went with 40 minutes for a longer, more gradual adjustment period and for easier math. I'll explain what I mean.
2. Create the Individual Light Settings
A sunrise alarm clock will start dim and gradually brighten over the scheduled period. For the smart bulbs, I decided to have 5 minute intervals.
The first setting turns the lights on at a very dim brightness and warm white color. Each progressive setting gradually brightens the lights and turns them more cool (blue toned) until the alarm sounds.
So for a 40 minute period and 5 minute intervals, I created 9 settings. Within each setting, I programmed each smart bulbs's brightness and color temperature.
3. Here's what the smart light settings look like:
4. Set to Repeat
It was a little tedious to set up a sunrise wake up alarm with the Teckin smart bulbs, but you only have to do it once. Then you can tell the schedule to repeat every day, on a specific day, on weekdays or on weekends.
So far, I'm loving it!
While you can buy a sunrise alarm clock, this little trick means you get the same effect without buying a separate device that takes up room on your nightstand. I placed the smart bulbs in my bedroom ceiling so I think it gives a wider range for the entire room to gradually brighten.
The one thing to remember is your phone needs to be connected to the internet or bluetooth for the scheduling to work. It sounds obvious, ha, but I typically turn my phone to airplane or do not disturb mode when I'm sleeping.
I'd say that's the only downside.
Best Smart Lights to Build Your Own Sunrise Alarm Clock
If you prefer convenience, the Phillips smart bulbs have a built in Wake Up feature.
In the app, you just set the time you want to wake up, and Philips will automatically create a 30 minute light schedule with colors that are pre-determined to be the most optimal morning hues.
If you're looking for a smart bulb, here are some of the most popular options on the market. All are dimmable with scheduling options, so you can replicate what I've done!
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