Let’s face it: No one likes waking up, and almost all of us rely on an alarm to get us out of bed in the morning. Even the most committed early birds will admit that sometimes it’s a struggle not to hit the snooze button. But can the right alarm clock, rather than the electronic bleeps of a smartphone alarm, actually help you to wake up well, and get your day off to a better start? Let’s take a look at alarm clocks through history before delving into the best ones on the market today. We promise it’ll make those dark mornings a little bit easier.
A brief history of alarm clocks
Many of us are now used to the mechanical beeping of our phone alarms waking us up, ever so rudely, from our slumber. But alarm clocks didn’t start like this, so where did they come from and how have they developed over the years?
For centuries, humans have been using a variety of ingenious methods to wake themselves up in the mornings. It’s thought that Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, used a large water clock to signal the start of his dawn lectures, and a couple of hundred years later, the Buddhist monk and inventor Yi Xing created an ingenious device that measured the time along with the distance of planets and stars, with a water wheel turning gears in the clock and gongs striking at certain key times.
From the 14th century onwards, some clock towers in Western Europe had in-built mechanisms enabling them to chime at a fixed time every day. The most famous such clock tower still in existence today is probably the St Mark’s Clocktower in Venice, which was constructed in 1496 and 1497.
The first mechanical alarm clock wasn’t invented until 1787, by Levi Hutchins, an American who created it for his personal use as he liked to wake up before sunrise. The first mechanical alarm clock to be patented was created by the French inventor Antoine Redier in 1847. This is the first iteration of what we’d recognise as an alarm clock today, and it allowed individuals to set their own wake-up times.
How do alarm clocks work?
Analogue alarm clocks function much in the same way today as the ones invented by Redier years ago. They have one or two bells with a hammer that moves back and forth to ring the bell when the clock reaches the pre-set alarm time. Digital clocks, on the other hand, use an electronic timebase to count down the time before triggering the sound or switching the radio on. Either way, when you hear that beeping noise, you know it’s time to get up.
Should you use your phone as an alarm?
Many of us use our phones as alarms - which stands to reason, as we use them for everything else in our lives. However, it’s not necessarily conducive to getting a great night’s sleep. The bright light of a smartphone makes it harder to get to sleep, and if you have your phone beside your bed ready to wake you up in the morning, the temptation to reach for it when you’re tossing and turning is usually too much to resist.
There’s also something to be said for ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Do you have a work project you can’t stop thinking about? Having your phone on your bedside table is only going to remind you of it, making it likely that the first thing you do before you go to sleep (and the first thing you do when you wake up) is checking your emails.
Locking your phone away in another room and reverting to an actual alarm clock may well be the best thing you could do for your sleeping habits.
Best alarm clocks
What you determine to be the ‘best’ alarm clock depends on what features you want to see. The one essential feature of any alarm clock is that it must wake you up in the morning - but the rest is up to you. Do you want an old-school aesthetic, something that’s quite obviously an alarm clock? Or would you prefer something more subtle that blends in with your bedroom’s style? Are you looking for one that’s in-tune with your body clock and will wake you up at the right point in your REM cycle? A radio alarm that will play your favourite tunes every morning? Let’s take a look at some of the best options.
The Charlie Bell Echo Alarm Clock from Newgate Clocks has a traditional alarm clock look for those who want to keep it classic with a contemporary twist, thanks to added design details like the modern typeface and a fun range of colours to suit any interior feel. The vintage design features a hammer and twin alarm bells, and it features a subtle ticking noise making it perfect for bedside tables.
Who doesn’t feel better when they wake up to their favourite beats? The Titanium Bamboo LED Clock Radio looks great, with its body crafted from natural bamboo, and the time displayed behind a rubber grill for an industrial look. Even better, it remembers six radio stations so you can mix up your radio station of choice depending on the day of the week.
For an alarm that doesn’t look anything like a traditional alarm clock, go for the Touch Pure Alarm Clock from QLOCKTWO. Available in a range of colours to suit any colour scheme, this unique design completely reimagines the traditional alarm clock with a display that shows the time in written words rather than numbers. The brightness is automatically adjusted depending on the ambient light, and you can even turn off the light completely for a better night’s sleep.
If you struggle to get up in the mornings, you may find that you fare better with a clock that simulates a natural sunrise, allowing you to naturally wake up with the light. These types of alarms can tap into your body’s natural rhythms, allowing you to wake up more gradually than you do with the sometimes jarring noise of an alarm beeping. The Miami Sunrise Light Therapy Alarm Clock fills your room with light and natural sounds when it’s time to wake up. You may just find that you get up feeling more refreshed than ever before!