How to Build a Sunrise Alarm Clock on the Cheap

Sunrise-simulating alarm clocks are a great way to wake yourself up in the mornings, but commercial sunrise simulators are ridiculously expensive. Read on as we show you how to turn a smart bulb starter kit into a sunrise simulator (and enjoy the benefits of smart bulbs at the same time).

Why Would I Want to Do This?

Waking up as a result of the sun naturally streaming in the windows and flooding the room with bright light is definitely far more pleasant than waking up to the blaring of an alarm clock. Unfortunately, depending on when you wake-up time, you might need to get up long before the sun even rises.

There are commercial solutions on the market, but they’re mostly expensive, bulky, finicky, and underpowered. Most sunrise simulating alarm clocks are about as bright as a 60-watt bulb typically in a large light diffusing container of some sort (most such alarms look like plastic moons or big white cylinders) and range in cost from $70-200. There’s really no reason to buy a dedicated and high-priced sunrise alarm clock when a smart bulb starter kit is the same price (or even cheaper) than a dedicated sunrise alarm clock.

What Do I Need?

To follow along with our tutorial, you’ll need one of the following smart bulb kits:

From a light-output standpoint, they’re nearly identical in every way (truly the nuanced difference between them is very small and amounts to a half watt of power consumption here or there and/or a slightly different shade of warm white).

Where they really differ is the control hardware/software, so we recommend both reading over our full reviews (linked above) as well as reviewing the next section of the tutorial where we show you how the sunrise simulation software works.

If you own (or plan on buying) the Wink hub, follow along with the GE Link instructions below, as both the Link and the Wink use identical control software (the Link is just a lightbulb-only version of the full Wink hub). Although the GE Link starter kit is very cheap (and a great way to get started with smart bulbs in general), it’s not the best sunrise alarm clock solution. So definitely read all the way through the tutorial before making any purchases.

For the purposes of this tutorial we’re assuming that you have already configured your bulbs, and your smart bulb system is up and running. If you have one of the aforementioned kits and you haven’t completely set it up yet, please refer to the links above to see both our review of the kit and a guided setup routine.

The following configuration guides are presented in the order in which we recommend the kits, based on their utility as sunrise alarm clocks and not necessarily because they are the cheapest or the superior general-use smart bulb system.

Configuring Philips Hue

Although the Philips Hue lighting system is the most expensive smart bulb lighting system in our roundup, you get what you pay for. The quality of the bulbs, the bridge that links them to your network, and the software is really good.

To create a wake-up alarm using your Hue lights, start by opening up the Hue app on your phone and tap on “Routines” at the bottom.

2016-11-16_0010

Select “Wake up”.

2016-11-16_0011

Tap on the round plus button in the bottom-right corner of the screen.

2016-11-16_0012

First, give the wake up alarm a custom name if you’d like.

2016-11-16_0013

Next, swipe up and down on the numbers to select a time that you want to wake up. Keep in mind that this will be the time that the lights will be at full brightness once they finish fading in, so adjust this time accordingly.

2016-11-16_0014

Below, that select the days of the week that you want the alarm set on.

2016-11-16_0015-1

Next, tap on “Fade in”. You can select either 10, 20, or 30 minutes, which is the amount of time your lights will take to slowly fade in—going from dim to full brightness. So if you set this for 10 minutes and set the time for 6am, the lights will first turn on and begin fading in at 5:50am.

2016-11-16_0015 copy

One you have that set, go back by tapping on the back arrow in the top-left corner and then tap on “Where?”. Place a checkmark next to the room that you want to turn on and activate for your wake up alarm. Once selected, hit the back arrow.

2016-11-16_0022 copy

Below “Where?”, you can tap on “All lights” to select specific lights you want to use or don’t want to use by selecting or deselecting check boxes. By default, all lights in that room will be used.

2016-11-16_0018 copy

Go back and then hit “Save” in the top-right corner of the screen.

2016-11-16_0020

Your wake up alarm will show up at the top, where you can tap on the toggle switch to the right to disable or enable it manually at any time. You can create more than one wake up alarm if you wish by tapping on the round plus button and going through the previous steps again.

Configuring Belkin WeMo

Although the Belkin WeMo smart bulb system isn’t the best smart bulb system we’ve reviewed to date, it does have really solid options when used as a sunrise alarm clock. Further, if you’re buying your smart bulb system expressly to serve as a sunrise alarm clock it’s the best value in terms of dollars-spent to utility-gained.

To create a sunrise simulating alarm in the Belkin system you open up the control app and tap on the “Rules” menu item on the bottom navigation panel. Select “By time, sunrise/sunset”. Select the light bulbs you wish to activate in the morning. Set the time and then set the bulb brightness to full with a fade in of 30 minutes. Save your changes and you’re all set.

Configuring GE Link/Wink

The Wink smart lighting system might be very economical (you can get the GE Link hub and bulbs for a fraction of the cost of other smart bulb systems) and the software might be, overall, quite good, but for this application it’s pretty terrible.

In fact, the only reason we included the Wink smart lighting system in this roundup was to 1) warn new buyers not to buy it if their goal is setting up a good sunrise simulating alarm clock and 2) show existing owners how to set up a work around.

The primary shortcoming of the Wink control app is that it has no fade in/fade out functionality. You can’t set the bulbs to turn on at X time and fade slowly in for Y minutes which is the heart of any sunrise simulating alarm clock.

The work around, and it’s a work around we will admit is rather kludgy, is to create a sequence of alarms that force a fade in routine. For example, if you want the lights to turn on at 5:00 AM and brighten until they reach 100% brightness at 5:30 AM then you need to create a series of alarms that slowly increase the brightness: e.g. 10% brightness at 5:00 AM with incremental percentage increases at 5:10, 5:20, and 5:30 (or even smaller increments of time if you have the patience for it).

It’s imperfect and irritating to setup but if you already have money invested in a Wink system and smart bulbs, it beats buying a secondary system just to serve as an alarm clock.


With a little investment (less than buying a dedicated alarm clock at that) you can have no only a smart bulb system for your bedroom but a fully functional sunrise alarm clock to help get you out of bed on even the darkest days of the year.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.


Craig Lloyd writes about smarthome for How-To Geek, and is an aspiring handyman who loves tinkering with anything and everything around the house. He's also a mediocre gamer, aviation geek, baseball fan, motorcyclist, and proud introvert.