The Best Alarm Clocks Will Make You Ditch Your Phone
Lo-fi for the win.
Published Nov 23, 2021 1:10 AM
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“When cell phones first became a part of everyone’s daily life, we thought that perhaps alarm clocks would fade away, that no one would need them anymore,” says Chay Costello, associate director of merchandising at MoMA Design Store. But the bedside basic has maintained its spot on the nightstand, and it may actually have health benefits: Sleep hygiene experts suggest that keeping smartphones out of the bedroom can help us avoid disruptive screen time before bed.
While classic alarm clocks remain popular, the best ones have subtle updates for 21st-century consumers. Newer alarm clocks have all sorts of bells and whistles—not to mention smart features—to make the most of your mornings. Costello points to the rise of what she calls lifestyle alarm clocks, devices that “tend to address the whole sleep cycle, from falling asleep to waking up in a more peaceful and restorative way.”
Whether you’re looking for a low-tech model or a modern, multipurpose option, read on for the best alarm clocks to help you wake up on the right side of the bed.
Our Top Picks
- Best updated classic: Newgate Covent Alarm Clock
- Best minimal: Georg Jensen HK Alarm Clock
- Best travel friendly: Braun Classic Travel Analog Clock
- Best retro: Arne Jacobsen Alarm Clock
- Best smart: Loftie Alarm Clock
- Best sunrise: Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
- Best multipurpose: Hatch Restore Smart Sleep Assistant
- Best sound: Oneclock Analog Waking Clock
Best Updated Classic: Newgate Covent Alarm Clock
A contemporary take on a traditional design from Newgate, a British purveyor of watches and clocks, this model has a classic hammer-and-bell alarm, which is ideal for heavy sleepers. But while many basic clocks produce loud ticking that can be annoying on the nightstand, this model has much quieter ticking. One reviewer who put this clock on her wedding registry to be “intentional with keeping our phones out of the bedroom at night” described the Covent as “cute, old school, and perfectly manual in today’s world.” The metal clock comes in a warm gray color and a matte finish.
Best Minimal: Georg Jensen HK Alarm Clock
An heirloom design that debuted in 1978, this clock still feels fresh. It’s the work of Henning Koppel, who studied sculpture in Copenhagen before embarking on a lifetime collaboration with Georg Jensen after World War II, creating clocks, glassware, and other home goods. With long, narrow hands and round dots in lieu of numeric markers, it’s both sophisticated and simple. There’s a push-button night-light, and the base stand is removable for wall mounting.
Best Travel Friendly: Braun Classic Travel Analog Clock
Costello calls Braun “an excellent illustration of utilitarian design—dependable and easy to use,” and this portable, lightweight model is a perfect travel companion. The white color will be easy to spot in a suitcase; the quiet quartz movement won’t exacerbate jet lag; and the crescendo alarm, which beeps louder if it’s not turned off, is a plus for heavy sleepers. This good-to-go alarm clock runs on one AA battery.
Best Retro: Arne Jacobsen Alarm Clock
This little alarm clock offers a great way to bring home a design legend. It was created by famed Danish architect Arne Jacobsen in 1941 and takes inspiration from some of his chair designs. It features easy-to-read numbers and a classic alarm bell, plus some 21st-century updates for convenience: a touch-sensor snooze and LED light for checking the time in the dark. The handsome green shell, curved brass-finished legs, and black and white face make it a classic bedfellow.
Best Smart: Loftie Alarm Clock
“Loftie is there for the whole sleep journey,” says Costello. “It can lull you to sleep with a choice of nature sounds, white noise, breathwork, or sound baths. Then, when it’s wake-up time, there is a custom two-phase alarm system: one to gently wake you up, followed by a second sound to get you out of bed.” This unique wake-up sequence is one reason this model is SleepFoundation’s top alarm clock pick. You can customize alarms by the day of the week, and employ the total darkness mode, which turns off the display so light won’t disturb you. There’s also a built-in Bluetooth speaker if you like to listen to music while getting ready in the morning.
Best Sunrise: Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
“Sunrise alarms can be great,” Foley says of the devices that simulate the subtle break of dawn. “Your brain recognizes light and can adjust your melatonin production and circadian rhythm to these external stimuli. Many of these alarms have a combination of light and sound that can be a calming way to start your day.” Slowly brightening to mimic the sunrise, this model uses a 30-minute cycle, with the light shifting from red to orange to bright yellow, adding preselected natural sounds toward the end.
Best Multipurpose: Hatch Restore Smart Sleep Assistant
The multifunctional Hatch Restore can clear up a lot of bedside table real estate. It’s a sunrise alarm clock, a bedside reading light, and a sound machine, all customizable via a linked app. “Instead of waking up to the blaring iPhone alarm sound, I wake up from this gradual ‘sunrise’ light brightening up my room,” one satisfied customer noted. “This has made a significant difference in my morning mood.” Beyond the morning, this model can be programmed to include warm-tone lights, meditations, and soothing sounds for a relaxing evening wind-down (in-app purchases open a larger library of sounds and meditations). A stable Wi-Fi connection and Bluetooth are necessary for this clock.
Best Sound: Oneclock Analog Waking Clock
If you hope to find the perfect musical wake-up call, this clock may be able to help. The manufacturer partnered with a sonic strategist to research the best tones, tempos, frequencies, structures, and instruments for effective morning music. The songs are randomized and remixed daily to provide a fresh start each day. Yet the clock is quite simple and intentionally low-tech: No Wi-Fi, apps, or Bluetooth required. Made of solid white oak, glass, and powder-coated aluminum, it’s meant to last. The MoMA Design Store carries it in white and red.
Pro Tips for Styling Your Bedside Table
- Keep your alarm clock on the near side of the nightstand so that bleary-eyed fumbling won’t knock other items onto the floor.
- Add something to your nightstand that’ll make you smile in the morning, whether it’s a favorite picture in a frame, a memento from a great trip, or a small plant.
- Corral accessories on a tray for a more streamlined look. If you don’t use it daily, it shouldn’t be on top of your nightstand.
Three Ways to Sleep Soundly
These sleep hygiene techniques from the Sleep Foundation’s Foley may help alleviate mild to moderate insomnia, so that you fall asleep faster, stay asleep during the night, and wake up more refreshed.
Keep calm: Keep your bedroom free of such distractions as a computer, smartphone, and TV. “Only use your bed for sleeping and sex, so your brain doesn’t start associating your bedroom with other activities,” Foley explains.
Banish blue light: It’s not just the distraction of devices that can be a slumber stopper; the blue light they emit can make it hard to fall asleep. “Avoid looking at smart devices in the hours leading up to bedtime,” says Foley, who recommends leaving your phone charging in another room so you’re not tempted to check it.
Set the clock consistently: Foley also believes in keeping regular hours. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, helps to get your internal body clock in gear.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Analog vs. digital
“There is a customer divergence between those who want a simple, utilitarian alarm clock to keep tech out of their sleeping space and those who really value engaging with technology to customize and optimize their sleep schedule,” explains Costello. While a lot of analog clocks have useful conveniences like touch-sensor lights, if you want smart features and customization, go digital.
“A good alarm clock is simply one that can consistently get you up and out of bed,” says certified sleep science coach Logan Foley, managing editor of SleepFoundation.org. Some people respond best to a ringing bell, while others require a louder noise; some, however, find that far too jarring and prefer natural sounds or music. Many models now offer a variety of great alarm sound options and additional features to complement the sound and make waking up more pleasant.
Today’s alarm clocks truly work overtime, functioning as bedside lights and noise machines, generating meditations or serving as speakers. A number are meant for more than the morning, helping users wind down in the evening with soothing light and relaxing sounds. “If you can wake up with a simple alarm clock and it doesn’t cause any trouble for you, go that route,” says Foley, who has struggled with insomnia herself. “However, if you have a hard time falling asleep or a hard time waking up, or hit the snooze button over and over, consider an option with more features.”
Q: When was the alarm clock invented? (Seriously, I want to know!)
American clockmaker and inventor Levi Hutchins created what is believed to be the first mechanical alarm clock in In 1787. He didn’t patent his device, however, and a French inventor was the first to do so with a mechanical and adjustable alarm clock in 1847.
Q: I’m such a heavy sleeper; I never hear my alarm go off. What should I look for in an alarm clock?
If you can’t wake up to a standard alarm clock, consider a clock that has extra-loud volume settings and/or a vibrating bed shaker. You could slip it under your pillow or on the mattress to amplify the effect of the alarm.
The Last Word
Waking up is hard to do for many of us, but the right alarm clock can make it easier. That may mean a model that simulates the sunrise; offers the sound of music or birdsong; or helps you relax at night for deeper, more consistent slumber. It doesn’t hurt if the model you choose is a beautifully designed object that truly suits your style.
How We Vetted These Products
Every product in a Domino guide meets these criteria:
- They blend form and function. We believe the best-designed products reflect your personal style and are a joy to use.
- They’re expert approved. In addition to our team of editors, we tap a range of designers, makers, renovators, and all-around knowledgeable people to share their intel.
- They’re endorsed by people who actually own them. We pay close attention to real reviews to know that they pass the test IRL.