Philips Wake-up Light review

Philips Wake-up LightWith 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.

Neodymium A51 BulbMany 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”.

Turn off the lightAlthough 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.

Beep-Beep?

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.

Waking up in the shadeAccording 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.

Conclusion

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.

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23 Responses to Philips Wake-up Light review

  1. donnacha says:

    Thanks for the review.

  2. Duo Penotti says:

    Dear Rolfje,

    I loved your review of the Philips Wake up light. I read that your tv is over 8 years old. As I’m currently looking for a nice plasma flatscreen can I expect a review soon?

    Sincerely yours,

    N&J

  3. rolfje says:

    I’m looking for a new TV, but it has to be LCD, and 100Hz, and preferably have better black tones than the current LCD TV’s available in the pricerange 2000 to 3000 euro’s. I’m waiting for OLED technology to hit the TV market.

    If you like to see a review earlier than that, or a review of a specific model, donations are welcome ;-)

  4. rolfje says:

    Sidenote: My dad is experimenting with PIC controllers. He has a very simple program which simulates a Wake-up Light without sound. It seems to be simple (and cheap) to make these lights yourselves with the aid of a small backlit LCD, a dimmer, and a PIC controller (and some patience with a soldering iron).

  5. Philips recently introduced the next Wake Up Light. This time they found the solutions to use a energy saving lightbulb instead of a normal lightbulb.

    We are waiting for the Wake Up Light with LED-lightbulbs. That is better, saves a lot of energy.

    Just a matter of time.

  6. rolfje says:

    Personally I hope that Philips never, ever introduces LED lights in the wakeup light. The reason is kind of explained in my post in the section on Neodymium bulbs. Current LED lights can not approximate daylight because they emit narrow bands of single colors, like fluorescent light. Although for most people this will be ok, it will not be as good as a normal “glowing wolfram wire” lamp which emits a completer spectrum. Explanations on LED’s and their spectrum can be found here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light-emitting_diode

    White LED’s also introduce the possibility of a “blue light hazard”, because the blue light component is used to make a LED look “white”. More info on Blue light hazrd info is here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue-light_hazard

    The light is only on for 30 to 45 minutes each morning. Energy saving in that lightbulb is senseless and the expenses likely do not outweigh the savings. If all you have is a hammer…

  7. Max says:

    I think this would help me tremendously but I’m a student and simply can’t afford to pay about £80 for it. I’m quite good with technology and so it would be great if somebody knew of a guide to making your own? Either that or a cheaper alternative – unless they have some kind of patent…

  8. rolfje says:

    There is no patent on dimming lights with a timer. You might want to contact your local aquarium hobbyists, they often have a dusk/dawn simulation clock which can do the same thing.

    These guys often build these themselves, and may be even selling them for a nicer price. It will not be as neatly packaged as the wakeup light, but it will work.

    You can also try to find somebody with a PIC controller experimentation board and some experience in programming pulse width modulation to dim a light.

  9. Lisa says:

    Good review, Thanks. It’s made me have a second think.

  10. Leandro Lima says:

    I’ve seen several reviews telling that the bulb died off in a month. Do you see an easy way of changing it?

    Cheers, Leandro

  11. rolfje says:

    On the old model, the lamp is very easy to change. The part with the top buttons and the back pop off if you push them up. Access to the bulb is very easy.

    I have my wakeup light for almost a year now, and I use it every day. I have never changed the bulb.

    I am not familiar with the newer wakeuplight models, but I guess that the bulb can be changed on that one, too.

  12. Marilyn says:

    I am on my second light. The light burned out on both of them within a month & there is no way to replace it. Amazon replaced the first one, but I am not sure I even want to bother replacing the second light. It is a piece of junk.

    • rolfje says:

      That’s strange, I have replaced my light bulb with different colors to experiment, it’s quite easy. But then again, I have the old model (shown top right in the article), maybe you got the new model which makes it harder to replace, and maybe heats up more.

      Hope you find a better alternative.

  13. Hi really enjoyed reading your post.
    I am searching for influential blogs, web sites, magazines, sources, etc. that review LED lighting products.?

  14. Harry Klitza says:

    The philips wake up light definitely rocks! I actually have two sunrise clocks the Biobrite model and the Philips one. That’s probably over kill but I have one on either side of the bed for maximum results.

    It was tricky at first to try and get the timing right for the wake up effect to occur syncronized but once that was sorted it worked beautifully.

    Thanks for the wonderful review!

  15. LuLu says:

    hey your review is very good but what about this new philips goLITE BLU light thats meant to give energy aswell with bit of good mood,im really finding it difficult to choose which light is right for me and have gone through a few websites,you seem to know about Circadian rythm of your body so i think thats where i have the problem, i find i dont fall asleep until its getting bright out and wake up late, im always tired during the day and when its starts get dark out i seem to really wake up and its not about timing or im not getting sleep at right hours, ive gone full days awake or sleep early and within a day or 2 it will go back to being the same so i am trying to train my body to fall sleep in dark and wake up when bright cos its been like this for years and i cant seem to change it even with medication to sleep early and b vitamins or any for energy in day, so im just hoping this light makes a different, i know this BLU light is more expensive, i dont care of the cost, i would just like to know which is best or which one to go for, is this a big blue bright light thats meant to remind you of blue sunny skies and wake you with brightness and give you false sense of energy thinking of blue skies or does it really have something to give you energy so does it work and if so is the one you talked about better for ur circadian rhythm to get back to normal to give you this slow like sense of sunsise and sundown, totally dont know what to do, any advice from someone would be grateful, tks

    • rolfje says:

      Hi Lulu, it seems that you’ve turned your cardian rythm around, and you are a “night person”. I’m not sure what’s turning your rythm around, are you staring at your computer screen or TV late at night? Because that’s light too, and can wake you up. Try to shut down the computer or turn down the brightness of the screen at least an hour before you go to sleep.

      I’m not sure about the goLITE BLU light, I’m kind of worried about the “Blue Light Hazard”, where LED’s contain so much blue (to make them look white) that it actually damages your eyes. I haven’t tried one so I can’t compare. The Philips wakeup light doesn’t really give you energy, the energy comes from your cardian rythm being “in sync” with the day. (awake during day, asleep at night).

      I don’t know if you’ve tried this but recently I’ve discovered that Melatonin pills actually helped me get over a jetlag pretty fast, which indicates that they have a huge effect on my cardian rythm. I took one pill an hour before going to sleep and woke up pretty refreshed. Melatonin is also the stuff your body produces to make you feel tired and fall asleep. It sounds that you can use these pills.

      Be careful with any medication you take and maybe talk to your doctor if you are not sure. Do not take Melatonin in the morning, as this will make you feel tired all day.

      I hope this helps, I know how it feels to be tired 24 hours a day and it certainly isn’t fun. Take care.

  16. J-Jammer says:

    Hi Rolfe: Why do you say the “Wake-up Light.. can even make problems worse” for people having bad SAD problems? I have very bad SAD untreated, and find a dawn light helps me awake alert and rested, and that a predicable dawn time improves sleep quality.

    Lulu & Rolfe: See very good NYTimes article on blue light, especially the impact of blue spectrum light on melatonin and sleeping SEE: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/health/05light.html?_r=1

    Lulu & Rolfe: I have very bad SAD problems and find the Philips goLITE BLU to be a very powerful cognitive and energy stimulant that I use before dawn in winter months, and intermittantly during the day as needed. For me, it is like “Spinach!” was in the 1940′s US Popeye cartoons. It can pack a big pop! But consistent use is needed, it takes several days of use to generate effects, and good effects can be lost in just a few days of non-use.

    Lulu: Be mindful of your preparation for sleeping. The NYTimes article talks about reducing blue light before bed-time for good sleeping. Also, less or no evening alcohol is beneficial. At night, I sometimes use glasses that filter blue-light. These seem calming. There are cheaper ones available, but I buy mine at http://www.bluelights.com The filtering may help, but the glasses surely remind that getting to bed, and off of the computer is important to waking up rested and clear-headed.

    • rolfje says:

      Thanks for the link to the goLITE BLU and sharing your experiences with SAD and how to fight it.

      As for my remark on the Wake-up light making things worse, it’s a warning that you should know what you’re doing with it and when. I use the Wake-up light for my SAD problems and it definitely helps. You *can* make things worse if you use the Wake-up light during the evenings. The light can trigger your body to wake up. Just like you shouldn’t stare into a monitor late at night, you shouldn’t use the Wake-up light at night. Only in the morning.

  17. Chris says:

    Hey, thanks for the nice article. You post a lot of useful information here. I got a Wake Up Light recently and I am very happy with it. I also wrote an article about how it helps me waking up, since I tend to oversleep regular alarms a lot.

    Greetz
    Chris

  18. Silja says:

    Great review! I have this Wake-up Light too, unfortunately it stopped working after one year. Actually radio and alarm work perfectly, but my lamp won´t dim the light. It is constantly on and there is no way to turn it off :(

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