I first became obsessed with wake-up lights back in the early '90s, when a British TV program investigated the then-new-fangled gadgets. The devices are designed to replicate our exposure to dawn, allowing us to wake from sleep cycles much as our ancestors did. I wasn't even 12 at the time, but I swore I'd buy one as soon as I grew up. At 23, I finally took the plunge, and picked up the Philips HF3745, which has lasted for eight years.
Wake-up lights are the practical implementation of the theories behind dawn simulation and how it relates to our circadian rhythms. For most of human history, we've worked (hunting and gathering) during the day and slept at night, rising at dawn and falling at dusk. Electric lighting (and smartphones) have messed with our sense of sleeping, but it's believed that those primal responses are still wired into our brains. Philips' device, along with many others like it, uses a bright yellow bulb that gradually increases in intensity during the 30 minutes before you want to get up.
I know it's effective because I'm able to get out of my bed only 15 or 20 minutes after I'm meant to, compared to an hour when I don't use it. If I'm in a foreign country for a trade show, I need to set my phone alarm to go off every five minutes for half an hour if I want to be up on time.
The HF3745 has a built-in FM radio, which is another great way to help you get up in the morning, at least if you pick the right channels. My personal favorite is to wake up to Radio 4 -- Britain's equivalent of NPR -- and listen to the Today Programme. It's a show in which right-wing lunatics are wheeled on to offer their mad opinions without threat of challenge or correction, and rightly boils my piss every morning. In fact, it's this combination of dawn simulation and piss boiling that ensures I'm up and at my desk by eight o'clock every day.
Unfortunately, eight years after buying it, the device is now showing its age, and things aren't working as they should any more. The buttons, when pressed, now trigger random functions, and activating the alarm causes the time to be reset to midnight. As a stop-gap, I've set up the Hue Lux bulb in my bedroom to operate in a similar fashion, although I often forget that I can't turn the bulb off at the switch if I want it to work. That also removes the radio aspect, which is a key component of my wake-up routine.
I've been keeping an eye on Philips' latest generation of wake-up lights in the hope of buying a replacement. Unfortunately, the new models still come with built-in FM radios, and while the UK keeps postponing its analog switchover, it seems silly to buy a device with a soon-to-be-outdated component. If there were one with a DAB module inside, I'd probably snap one up right away, which is a reason why I haven't bought the Lumie Active 250, which also uses FM.
I did ask Philips about this, and it said that it's considering adding DAB radios to its future models. Which isn't ideal, since I'm not going to be buying one of these now and then another one in a year or two's time. If I'm going to replace this warhorse, it won't be on a temporary basis.
I've also tried other styles of wake-up lights, most notably Withings' Aura, which did so little for me that I think they harmed my sleeping. The orange light that's designed to send you to sleep seemed to wire me permanently awake, and I spent much of that week in a terrified state of hypnagogia. Which is all the more reason to celebrate Philips' beautiful, wonderful, useful wake-up light HF3745. It may not be the flashiest piece of tech in the house, but it's probably one of the most important.