A better way to wake up

Summer is officially over and the days have become noticeably shorter here at the 40th latitude. This is the time of year when I become increasingly reliant on my alarm clock to wake up. I’ve tried a variety of methods to wake up in the morning over the years, and I’ve finally found a product that dramatically improves the experience. But before we get to my ideal experience of waking up, let me tell you about the methods that I’ve tried and how they fell short.

Parental Nudge
At some point in grade school, it became necessary for my parents to speak to or physically nudge me to get me up and ready for school in time. This method worked well, but I usually started the day with a grudge against my parents. Not ideal.

Typical Digital Alarm Clock
As a child of the 80s, the digital alarm clock was my first experience with a product as a waking aid. The audible alert – beep …beep…beep – annoyed me out of bed. To this day I still cringe when I hear that sound. It also had a “snooze button” that provided a temporary, seven-minute respite from starting the day. But I fell into the trap of hitting snooze too many times and getting up late, making this method annoying, ineffective, and still not ideal.

Digital Alarm Clock with Nature Sounds
By high school my disdain for getting out of bed was well established with friends and family. Knowing this, my older brother gave me a digital alarm clock for graduation that used nature sounds as the alarm. It was revolutionary! I woke up to the gentle sounds of chirping birds or crashing waves gradually increasing in volume. But then winter came; I found that sweet, sweet, snooze button and was back to waking  up late. So although it was a great improvement – and one that I used for many years – it was still not ideal.

 

iPhone Alarm
After about 10 years, my nature sounds alarm clock stopped working, so I began using the alarm on my iPhone. At first I placed the iPhone next to my bed, but this quickly led to heavy use of my friend, the snooze button. Next I tried leaving it across the room so I would have to get out of bed to turn off the alarm. This proved effective, but it was even more annoying than the dreaded buzzer from my childhood. Overall, this method had its advantage (it was included in a product I already owned), but was still not ideal because it was either ineffective or annoying depending on the implementation.

Finally – Simulated Sunrise with Nature Sounds
During a particularly grey Pittsburgh winter, I heard a report on the radio about Seasonal Affective Disorder. I began to suspect that perhaps the reduced amount of sunshine in the winter was the cause of my “winter blues” and my difficulty in waking up.  While researching Seasonal Affective Disorder and light therapies, I stumbled upon the Philips Wake-Up Light. It was touted as “clinically proven to make waking up more pleasant” by waking you up in a “gentle and natural way so you are ready for the day ahead.” I had my doubts. But my wife bought it for me for Christmas, and I can attest to its effectiveness.

The face of the clock is a light that gradually increases from soft dawn reds through warm orange to bright yellow, beginning 30 minutes before the set alarm time. The light fills the room and signals my mind to move from sleeping to waking (as natural light does in the summer). Not only do I often find myself awake before (simulated) birds start chirping at my alarm time; better yet, I am no longer annoyed when I wake up in the morning. My family and coworkers are thankful for this!

As a designer at a product development firm, I find this fascinating. It took years of research, engineering, and design – and probably a few “aha” moments – for the lowly alarm clock to evolve from a necessary annoyance into a product that is not only effective, but also an experience that is pleasurable.

What mundane experiences in your everyday life could use a similar transformation?

Matt Meurer