Most people who sleep with a clock radio alarm next to their bed find it difficult to wake up in the morning. They say that’s why they have one. But what they don’t realize is that their clock radio may actually be the cause.
I remember the first time I came across this during a consultation in a couple’s home. The wife really had a hard time waking up so I recommended that she get rid of her clock radio. She agreed to give this a try but instead of throwing it out and replacing it with a battery-powered alarm clock, as I had suggested, she moved it to her husband’s side of the bed instead. ‘He’s always up with the larks,’ she reasoned, ‘so it won’t affect him’.
A week later she called me to report. She was now waking easily, feeling rested and refreshed, but her husband could hardly prise himself out of bed in the morning. Totally convinced, she followed my original advice, bought a new battery-operated alarm clock, and they both slept and woke fine after that.
Why clock radios are a problem
Our homes are full of electrical appliances that emit power frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs). The human body can comfortably tolerate electric fields of up to 5 volts per metre (V/m) and magnetic fields of up to 0.025 microtesla (µT), and most people can handle up to 10 V/m and 0.5 µT. Some types of equipment emit very much higher levels than this (hair dryers, curling tongs, electric shavers, and so on), but we only use them for a few minutes at a time so that’s OK. The problems start with appliances that emit high levels of EMFs and that we are exposed to for long periods of time, especially when sleeping, because this can interfere with the body’s ability to regenerate and repair cells.
Clock radios are usually fitted with a two-wire mains cable instead of an earthed three-wire cable, and this causes them to emit a surprisingly large electric field for their size. They also usually contain a cheap transformer that creates a high magnetic field too. I have a professional meter that is designed specifically to measure these emissions, and I have had the opportunity to test clock radios in many countries around the world in the course of doing healthy home surveys for clients. I nearly always find that EMFs from clock radios are many times higher than the safe levels recommended by experts — often 20 times higher, or more. It’s this bombardment that can cause you can wake up feeling like you need a good night’s sleep, and if it’s repeated night after night for months or years, it can cause more serious health effects too.
Another factor is that exposure to power frequency EMFs during the hours of the night is known to inhibit the production of melatonin by the pineal gland, which can cause significant sleep and health issues. The pineal gland, of course, is located in the head, so the worst place to put a clock radio is on your bedside table, which is exactly where you need it to be. Both the clock radio and the cord need to be at least a 1 meter (approx. 3 feet) away from any part of your body which, of course, makes it useless as an alarm clock because you won’t want to have to get out of bed to turn it off.
There’s now a new generation of digital (DAB) clock radios, which you’d hope would be better. But in fact they have an added problem because they also emit low levels of radio frequency (RF) noise. It’s therefore best to place these even further away from you — at least 2 meters (approx. 6.5 feet).
What’s the solution?
Most clock radios can be unplugged and run on battery instead of mains power, which results in the EMFs becoming negligible. Problem solved. However before you rush out to buy batteries, first consider why on earth would you want to habitually wake up to the cacophony of a radio station blasting in your ear? Is this really the best way to start the day?
Meditators know that the best time to meditate is just after waking, when the mind is at its stillest and the busyness of the day has not yet begun. Even speaking to someone before meditating can disrupt this internalized space. Waking up to the blare of a radio is a full-on assault on the senses that is stressful to both your body and your mind. A quiet start to the day will allow you to engage in a much more centred way.
A much better solution, if you need an alarm to wake you up, is a battery-operated alarm clock with no built-in clock radio at all. It will emit no EMFs, no RFs, and can be placed on your bedside table right next to your head with no side-effects of any kind. It is inexpensive, takes up less space, and the batteries usually last for years before needing to be replaced.
What about using a cell phone alarm?
This is an even worse idea if you also plug your phone in to the mains at night to recharge it. Both the phone and the cord will be emitting similar high levels of EMFs to those of a clock radios. And if you keep the WiFi turned on too, the RF radiation will be very much higher. The best thing you can do with your phone at night is to turn it off or put it in airplane mode and recharge it as far away from your bed as possible, preferably in another room. You’ll have much less busy dreams that way too.
Is your cellphone zapping you while you sleep?
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A very informative write-up. I honestly had no idea that the emf emitted by alarm clocks has the potential to be so disruptive to a good night’s rest. I was thinking of getting a projection alarm clock. Most of them come with a battery so knowing this is very helpful. Thank you.
Great blog. What about lumie clocks that wake you up with light therapy? Would be great if you could address these. Thanks.
Any clock on your bedside table that runs on mains electricity rather than batteries will emit EMFs that will affect the quality of your sleep and potentially cause health problems over a period of time too. Lumie clocks usually run on mains so you wouldn’t want to put one on your bedside table. But it doesn’t have an alarm noise that needs to be turned off so you could place it somewhere else in the room. Providing it’s 2 metres (about 6 feet) away from any part of your body, that would be fine.
Hello, I recently bought a radio alarm clock, and I’m sorry I didn’t read your article earlier. Ever since I put it near my bed at night I had trouble sleeping and I started to wake up in the middle of the night. I had no idea that it could be because of the alarm clock, but I did know that my problems started when I bought that clock so I made a test. I removed clock from my bedroom and I started to sleep normally, no waking ups, no problems sleeping. I couldn’t believe that was the reason for my troubles, so after a week I put the radio back and the same night it all came back, I woke up few times during the sleep and in the morning I was tired. I have no doubts anymore.
what about FM/DAB radios that display the time but do not have an alarm?
Hi Harry – In addition to electromagnetic fields (EMFs), DAB radios also emit radiofrequency (RF) signals. A normal electrically-powered clock radio needs to be at least one metre (3 feet) from your head while you are sleeping. The recommended distance for a DAB radio is twice that, although it varies from model to model and may be less or more.
Hi, great read. Thank you!
I’be been sleeping with a “weather station” next to my head. It receives the temperature from a wireless sensor using 433MHz. I’m getting rid of it (I’ll take it to the living room) and I’m getting a battery alarm clock. My question is, how bad is the 433 frequency? And also, and more important, the new clock I like can receive a time radio signal from an atomic clock. Does affect our body anyhow?
The only way to check the strength of the radiofrequency EMFs being emitted by your weather station and the alarm clock you are thinking of buying is to check them with a meter that has been specifically designed to measure microwave radiation, such as the one described in this article: How healthy is your home?
But I’m somewhat baffled why you would want to exchange one RF device in your bedroom for another. Why not just buy a regular battery alarm clock that does not emit RF signals at all? No-one really needs the extreme accuracy that an atomic clock provides. It’s just a marketing ploy for people who are addicted to buying the newest and latest gadgets.
I have a Belkin router in my bedroom I unplug it at night but a battery light comes on. Will having the router running on batteries create any significant EMF? The router is about 4 feet from my bed. Do I need to move it any further way when its in battery mode to be safe?
Also when my microwave is running how far do I need to be away from it to be safe?
Thank you for your help.
There are many types of routers and microwave ovens and they each emit different levels of Rf and EMF frequencies. You will need to use a reliable meter to take measurements, such as the ones I recommend in this article: How healthy is your home?
I’m trying to stop using my phone but I hate waking up startled because of a loud alarm. I’ve been looking at Philips Wake-Up Light alarm clock. Do you think this would be a better solution?
Light alarms are electrically powered so it would not be a good idea to place one on your bedside table, for the same reasons I don’t advise putting a clock radio there. But if you can plug it in far away from your bed, it could be worth a try. I haven’t ever used one myself.
I actually think this is rubbish. I sleep so well with my radio clock. I fall asleep easily and wake up refreshed and I’ve had it for years. I like gently waking up to a different song every morning 🙂
Hi Lindsey – You are certainly an exception to the many clients I have worked with who have a clock radio next to their bed and wake up, day after day, feeling like they need a good night’s sleep. Possible explanations are that the clock radio you have emits lower EMFs than most other models, that you keep it a good distance away from you so are less affected by it, or that you have a very strong constitution, so are less affected by EMFs than others.
Downright silly, unscientific nonsense. No well controlled studies of the effects of EMF on sleep.
Alaisdair Philips of Powerwatch is a leading expert in this field. On the Powerwatch website, he comments:
‘When it comes to EMF issues, one of the most frequently heard phrases is “There is no evidence to support EMFs having health effects” or simply “There is no conclusive evidence”. This is completely wrong; there is an enormous body of evidence out there, but public and even academic awareness seems to be very poor.’
He then lists hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies on EMFs and related subjects, which you can access here
Best way of all to wake up is with a furry purring kitty gently pawing your nose (which in my case sticks out prominently enough to be the first thing her paw encounters) demanding her breakfast and alerting me that the sun is about to come up. As a result, my day starts with a smile and a chuckle and a happy feeling of contentment. Since adopting this furry Ball of Wonder I get up precisely at 5:44 every morning, and I do mean EVERY morning (needed or not) and have more than enough time to get ready to begin my day.
But for those of you with allergies, best to follow the incomparable and brilliant Ms. Kingston’s advice and buy a battery clock.
I use a dawn clock which allows me to gently wake up with light and a ‘sun-ray’ effect in my bedroom. Although it runs on mains electricity, I find a dawn clock preferable to being woken by a traditional alarm clock and opening my eyes into complete darkness (I black out the windows at night to aid good sleep).
Since learning about EMFs from your courses and blog articles, I have repositioned my dawn clock on the opposite side of my bedroom, about 2 metres away.
Even better would be a battery operated dawn clock – manufacturers please take note!
Sleep better, use battery alarm clock