With the “Wake-up Light”, Philips has taken the “dawn simulator” from “alternative/hippie” to “trendy”. Cleverly marketing it as simply a pleasant way to wake up, making it available in many stores and adding “trendy” pricing, Philips has a lot of people looking into one of these. But is it worth the money?
What is a Wake-up Light?
The Wake-up light can be categorized as a “dawn simulator”. Dawn simulators are nothing more than an alarm clock with the ability to slowly increase the intensity of an attached lightbulb. Dawn simulators generally take 30 minutes to reach 100% light intensity.
Why do I need a Wake-up Light?
There are several reasons why you would want to by a Wake-up Light. These range from simply being comfortable waking up to a lit room, to really having problems waking up and staying awake during the day. If you have problems waking up in the dark and have sort of a jetlag feeling all winter, you are categorized as having “SAD” (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Usually this will not be a big problem and dissapear somewhere in the spring. There are some cases where people actually are having problems functioning and/or get into a serious depression, in which case the Wake-up Light is not likely to be helpfull and can even make the problems worse.
When you are sleeping, you go through various sleeping phases. Some of these phases are easier to wake up from than others. When the Wake-up light slowly lightens your room, chances are that somewhere in that halfhour, you reach a phase in which you are easier to wake up. In this phase you’ll note the light and feel like you’ve “naturally” woken (assuming you’ve had a normal night’s rest). This will feel a lot better than your alarm clock suddenly going “BEEP-BEEP” at full volume, scaring the crap out of you.
There’s also another, more scientific fact. The day-night rythm, or “Circadian rythm” of your body is regulated by your Hypothalamus which is located in your head, just above your brain stem. This organ regulates several metabolic processes and controls production of Melatonin in the evening and Cortisol in the morning. The day-night rythm is partially controled by the dark/light cycle of daylight. When traveling to different timezones, your body can have trouble resetting the Circadiam rythm, contributing to jetlag. In space, Astronouts are helped to keep this rythm by artificial day/night light simulation inside the spacecrafts.
To keep the Circadian rythm in sync with your daily activities, even when there is no light, you need to do two things, one of which is hard. The first and easiest thing you can do is buy a Wake-up Light and set it to wake you every day at the same time, even in the weekends. The second, harder, thing to do is try to refrain from staring into bright lightsources before you are going to sleep. This means no staring at computer screens or TV’s. By staring at your white computer screen, your body will delay the production of Melatonin. By the time you need to wake up, there’s still too much Melatonin in your body, and the Cortisol will not work or not even produced. This will give you that “Why did you wake me in the middle of the night” feeling in the morning.
Does the Wake-up Light use a special Lightbulb?
No. The Philips Wake-up Light uses a normal Softone T55 “warm white” lightbulb, and it seems to work fine for a lot of people.
Many dawn-simulator manufacturers believe in the exact reproduction of daylight, and ship their devices with Neodymium lightbulbs. These bulbs claim to have a more faithful reproduction of daylight, and are believed to be the best bulbs to use in dawn simulators. Neodymium bulbs look purple to clear blue when turned off. If you really want to, you can replace the bulb in the Wake-up Light with a Neodymium bulb of the same power. Verilux makes some nice bright daylight blubs, one of which is in my old Lumie Sunray 100 Bodyclock. Daylight(tm) also produces Neodymium bulbs, but these are generally darker than the Verilux ones because of the thicker blue coatings.
Product look and feel
Besides waking you up in the morning, you also want a nice looking device, good audio quality, build quality and ease of use. I’m afraid the Wake-up Light does not score all that well in that department. The most important thing to note is that the Wake-up Light is miles ahead of it’s competitors from the “alternative” sector, where “usability” is generally translated into “ugly” or “clunky”, and “robust” is translated into, well, “ugly” and “clunky”.
Although it is better than the competition in terms of it’s looks and features, there are a few things which need mentioning. The most important thing being the way you control the alarm when you’ve just woken up. In the morning you’re probably not at your best, so finding a tiny knob you can’t see on the top of a device which is almost out-of-reach can be frustrating. The “snooze” button is on the top and can easily be “found” by slapping your hand anywhere on the top of the light. Resetting the alarm takes a bit more control, you need to find one of the 4 buttons on the top of the device. Judging from Philip’s own advertisement pictures (shown here on the right), this button is clearly not within your field of vision when lying in your bed.
The other buttons are located on the front of the base and allow you to control the brightness of the light and the volume of the radio or other sounds you choose when waking up. The processor in the Wake-up Light is a very-very slow one, because after pushing a button will take a while before the device reacts. This is very irritating for a device of well over a 100 Euros. When choosing an alarm sound, you can not go click-click-click to switch to the third. The Wake-up Light makes you listen to the sound before accepting a new click. Very irritating.
There are no radio-presets. This would be not a big problem if the radio would be scanning stations fast, but that’s not the case. To scan the whole band for a suitable radio station will take a lot of button presses, and a lot of time (5 minutes is not uncommon). Without presets,switching between stations which are far apart in radio-frequency terms will take a lot of time and frustration.
When pressing the buttons, there is a very cheap plastic feel to them, and you have to push them relatively hard before they make the cheap “click” sound.
Other irritating “design features” include the fact that it does not make a difference between your alarm settings and the things you do to the clock when listening to the radio or reading a book. Say you want to wake up to light intensity “10” (it goes from 0 to 20) and the radio at volume “6”. You set the alarm accordingly. After setting the alarm, you decide to read a book before going to bed. When you turn the light up to 20 to read your book, and turn up the volume of the radio, you are in for a surprise the next morning… The Wake-up light will use intensity 20 and whatever radio volume your clock was last set to. I circumvented this by having a reading light and using a seperate radio.
Most dawn-simulators have a mode where they also do a “dusk” simulation, slowly turning down the light while you fall asleep. If you have any form of SAD, this is not a good feature to use because of the day/night rythm discussed earlier. With the Wake-up Light, you don’t even have the choice. It can only wake you up, but not put you to sleep. No features whatsoever. No sleep mode on the radio, no sleep mode on the light.
A really nice feature is the “preview” button where the Wake-up light shows you what is going to happen next morning, but than in a “fast forward” mode. It goes through the whole wakeup process in 90 seconds, so you can see and hear if you set it up correctly. Do not forget to push the button again after you’re ready, because it repeats the preview indefinetely. I would find it more obvious to do 1 preview on each button press.
In preview mode, I noticed that the intensity of the light does not increase perfectly. At some points, the light intensity seems to decrease briefly. I also noticed this in the 30-minute cycle in the morning, although it is not irritating. I think this has to do with the built-in dimmer frequency interfering with the 50Hz of the mains, and is a slight design flaw.
The funniest of all was the fact that after spending by 119 Euros, I found out that there was only a German and Italian quick-start card in the box, and no trace of a usermanual. The manual is available as a seperate download. It’s strange to see that Philips assumes that everybody who buys an alarm clock also owns a computer and has an internet connection.
After the Wake-up Light has turned up the light, it will start the audio alarm you selected at the volume you selected (and the time you selected). Thank god Philips has banned the terrible 50Hz buzzer “beep-beep” sound in this one. The waking sounds available on the 100Watt HF3461 model are:
radio – Plays your chosen station.
birds – An approx. 20 second looping sample of tjirping birds in a quiet surrounding.
forest – 20 second loop of animal sounds in a forrest.
sea – 20 second loop of the sea washing against the shore.
All sounds will start on a low volume, and slowly increase to the volume you selected before you went to sleep.
400 Lumen or not?
There are two general versions of the Wake-up Light. A 75 Watt without, and a 100 Watt with radio. The 100 Watt model is claimed to put out 400 Lumen (not to be confused with Lux) at the highest setting (20). Although the Wake-up Light will always produce the same light (aging of the bulb not considered), you will notice that you will not wake up to the same “light sensation” each morning.
According to the manual, you need to place your Wake-up Light about 30-40 cm from your head, in such a way that your pillow will not block the light. Even when doing this, there is about a 50% chance that you are not facing the bodyclock in the morning.
When I bought my Lumie bodyclock in 2005, I noticed after a while I automatically wake up facing the lamp. It seems I like bright light, even when I sleep ;-) For that matter, the Wake-up Light is brighter than my Lumie (100 vs 60 Watt), so that’s an improvement I guess.
I think the Wake-up Light is a step in the right direction, but it’s not there yet. If you like slowly waking up to a simulated sunrise, or are having trouble waking up in the winter, this one is for you, provided you can spend the whopping 119 Euro’s I payed for the 100Watt version.
I’d really like to see a version where I can connect external lightsources and have my 500Watt Halogen lamp slowly light the whole room.