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Wake-Up Call: Finding the Best Alarm Clock for You

Updated September 11, 2019

It’s hard to get excited about alarm clocks: Few devices are regarded with more dread. Their shrill tones shatter slumbers, bringing on whatever stress the day has in store.

Yet there are plenty of reasons for alarm clock enthusiasm. While smartphones once threatened to drive them to extinction, alarm clocks are enjoying a renaissance of sorts in the digital age. 

male turning off hitting snooze on digital clock

Emerging science suggests that phones are best excluded from our bedside tables, restoring alarm clocks to original relevance. Moreover, technology is redefining what an alarm clock can be, with smart features and entirely new methods for waking their owners.

How many types of alarm clocks are there, and which type would work best for you? Keep reading to find out.

The Case for Alarm Clocks: Outdated or Essential?

For years, it seemed alarm clocks might go the way of the typewriter, made woefully obsolete by more powerful machines. As we became increasingly dependent upon our smartphones, alarms were just one more essential function we entrusted to our devices. 

Over time, however, we realized that bedtime scrolling primes your mind in all the wrong ways: When you consume digital content on your phone before bed, you become more alert and engaged. This attentive frame of mind can make it harder to attain REM sleep, the deep sleep stage that allows your brain to restore itself.

Furthermore, the blue light from your phone can throw your body’s sleep processes for a loop. Blue light has been shown to disrupt your circadian rhythm, the biological timer that orchestrates human sleep patterns. As a result, our phones can make it harder to drift off and stay asleep throughout the night. 

For all these reasons, it’s best to keep your phone outside of your bedroom. But if you do so, what will wake you up in the morning? That’s where having the perfect alarm clock comes in handy.

The Best Alarm Clock for You: Evaluating Your Options

If it’s been a while since you last shopped for an alarm clock (or you’re a first-time buyer) you might be surprised by the diversity and complexity of the category. With so many different styles, features, and price points available, purchasing the right device can quickly feel overwhelming.

No need to worry: We’ll help you sort through your alarm clock alternatives, presenting the pros and cons associated with each type. With a full understanding of your options, you’ll be plenty prepared to pick the best clock within your budget.

Old-School and Analog Alarm Clocks

In an age of digital overload, analog alarm clocks can seem downright charming. Many manufacturers often exploit this retro appeal, using a mid-century modern aesthetic straight out of the 1950s. 

female turning off traditional alarm clock

With bold and basic colors available, analog alarms clocks offer something to complement every bedroom palette. Plus, these timepieces tend to be cheap, meaning you can spruce up your bedside table without breaking your budget. If you’re the traveling type, battery-operated models are easy to bring along on any adventure.

Of course, beyond telling the time, you won’t find much additional functionality. You may have to set your alarm manually, and winding the alarm into position can be tricky on some models. Heck, some millennials struggle to read the time on a classic clock, especially when they first wake up. 

Moreover, you’ll have to make do with whatever the alarm sounds like – and old-school buzzers can be pretty obnoxious. Speaking of sounds, some models tick pretty loudly, which can be extremely distracting when you’re trying to doze off.

Pros: Inexpensive and retro-chic with a range of designs and colors available. Battery-operated models are ideal for travel.

Cons: Limited functionality, manual alarm setting, and harsh wake-up tones. Avoid models that tick too loudly. 

No-Frills Digital Alarm Clocks

Digital alarm clocks may lack the vintage cache of analog models, but they’re still functional and affordable. They’re also silent until your alarm goes off, meaning you won’t need to worry about noisy ticking at night. 

While their appearance tends to be fairly bland, digital alarm clocks come in all shapes and sizes. Smaller, battery-operated models make for good travel companions as well. 

Be wary of glow, however: In a dark room, glowing numerals can be an unwelcome source of illumination while you’re trying to sleep. It’s also worth noting that setting up alarms on digital clocks with few buttons can be a bit frustrating. 

Pros: An affordable and reliable option for sensible sleepers. Battery-operated models travel well.

Cons: Glow can be an issue, and setting up alarms can require a tedious amount of button-pushing. 

Radio Alarm Clock

In some ways, radios and alarm clocks have a lot in common: Both are legacy technologies under siege in the digital age. But for traditionalists who love their tunes, radio alarm clocks are a great way to wake up to the sound of music. 

You can find clocks that play both AM and FM stations, and most let you choose between waking up to a buzzer or your favorite station. Some models boast sleek modern looks, while others are designed with retro appeal in mind. Generally, radio alarm clocks are pretty cheap as well, especially considering that you’re basically getting two gadgets for the price of one.

Keep in mind, however, that you can’t predict what your preferred station will be playing at the moment you wake up. Being jolted awake by the sound of a commercial could be pretty unpleasant. 

Pros: A cost-effective way to inject some music into your morning routine.

Cons: You can’t pick what you’ll hear upon awakening.

Vibrating Alarm Clocks

Some people prefer vibration to auditory wake-up calls, often for practical reasons. If you’re hearing-impaired, for instance, a vibrating alarm clock may be the best option. Typically, these devices rest on or near your bed, shaking you up at the appointed hour.

Likewise, vibrating alarm clocks can be a perfect solution for couples who arise at different times; some kinds of vibrating alarm clocks can fit right beneath your pillow. It will rumble you away at your chosen time, leaving your partner undisturbed. 

Certainly, being jostled awake isn’t for everyone: You may find this wake-up method disorienting. Vibrating alarm clocks range from gentle to downright violent, so pick one that will get you up without putting you into a panic.

Pros: Good for those with hearing challenges and couples with different sleep schedules. 

Cons: For some, vibrations are a pretty unsettling way to begin the day.

Innovative Alarm Clocks for Snoozers

It happens to the best of us: We set our alarms for good reason but hit snooze too many times, making the rest of our morning unnecessarily stressful. If you find yourself confronting too many of these self-imposed crises, there are some pretty nifty solutions to force you out of bed. 

Some alarm clocks simply amp up the aggravation, shaking, squawking, and shining bright lights at habitual snoozers. On these models, of course, there’s no snooze button at all. We recommend placing them out of arm’s reach, so you’ll need to get out of bed to turn them off.

Another ingenious solution for habitual snoozers is Ruggie, which looks more or less like a well-cushioned floor matt. To turn off this innovative alarm, you actually need to step on it for three full seconds – and get out of bed in the process. 

Pros: Kiss the temptation to snooze goodbye and start your mornings on time.

Cons: There’s really no middle ground: On the rare occasion where you can snooze responsibly, you’re basically out of luck. 

“Sunrise” or Light Alarm Clocks

Taking a page from our prehistoric state, “sunrise” alarm clocks use gradually increasing levels of light to gently bring us into wakefulness. The rationale is pretty simple: Humans used to rise with the sunlight, and we can do the same today. This method can be far more peaceful than the clamor of a traditional clock.

Most models pair increasing illumination with gentle nature sounds and a backup alarm, so you’re not reliant on the light alone. Additionally, sunlight alarm clocks usually offer several color ranges, so you can choose the type of light most conducive to your awakening. Some even provide additional perks, such as doubling as a Bluetooth speaker.

True, some folks will find light-based alarm clocks a little too “new age” for their tastes. And for those who take lots of daytime naps in relative brightness, the value may not be apparent. Moreover, these machines can cost a pretty penny, especially for upscale models from established brands.  

Pros: A gentler way to wake up, with plenty of customization options.

Cons: It’s an expensive upgrade to an everyday device; many will prefer affordable alternatives.

Smart Alarm Clocks

Like many household objects, alarms clocks have gone smart in recent years. Empowered with internet connectivity, smart alarms perform a vast array of functions. Some models resemble bedside tablets, with the power to play media and host countless apps. In many ways, waking you up is their least-impressive feature.

The precise model you choose may depend on which smart devices you already own. If your household is already wired with Amazon’s Alexa, you’ll probably be inclined to the Echo Spot or Echo Show 5. Likewise, Google Assistant users will find plenty of options on their preferred platform. 

Whichever you buy, expect basic functionality to include news, weather, music streaming, and more. Many permit you to make voice and video calls right from bed. Of course, whether any of this will make you happier is an open question. Wasn’t the whole point of getting an alarm clock to remove smart devices from the bedroom?

Pros: Tons of fun and useful features are baked into even basic models, and connectivity with your smart home is certainly a plus. 

Cons: Some of these devices are quite expensive and may cause more screen-related sleep issues.

The Best Way to Wake Up: Fully Rested

We hope this article helps you make the perfect alarm clock pick, allowing you to stop relying on your phone for wake-up calls. But no matter which alarm clock you choose, waking up won’t be particularly pleasant if you haven’t gotten enough rest the night before.

By contrast, a good night’s sleep makes even the shrillest alarms more bearable. So in addition to investing in the right clock, try devoting more time to the sleep you deserve. Head to bed a little earlier and make sure you’re getting the recommended amount of sleep for your age group.

If you’re getting the right amount of rest, there may be no reason to dread your alarm clock after all. With sufficient sleep, you’ll be ready to rise and shine – whichever wake device you choose.