If you feel like you aren't getting enough sleep, the good news is you probably aren't alone. The bad news is you're probably right.

Sleeping for the recommended eight hours poses a daily challenge for many of us. And it gets even harder around daylight saving time.

People's circadian rhythms — our 24-hour internal clocks — are largely dependent on sunlight. When we "spring forward" in March, we face darker mornings and brighter nights which, according to the Sleep Foundation, delays our internal clocks, making us sleepier in the morning and more alert at night.

Sunrise alarm clocks are designed to awaken people gradually with light (and sometimes soothing natural sounds) that gently increase over time, typically 30 minutes. The light is supposed to mimic natural sunlight and trigger the circadian rhythm to reset.

Ads for sunrise alarm clocks are popping up in lots of places. And sleep —or the lack thereof — has become such a hot topic that social media influencers are highlighting the latest trend in sleep technology. TikTokers, some with hundreds of thousands of followers, have given light-emitting alarms two thumbs up, especially for those who struggle with sleep, sleep in dark rooms and wake up before sunrise.

Is it just another baseless online hype? Maybe not.

"Here in the Midwest, we obviously have to contend with our six months of winter and sunlight not being a given, so these types of devices can be so incredibly helpful," said Sarah Moe, CEO and founder of Sleep Health Specialists. "It tends to allow most of us to avoid that sleep inertia groggy feeling and wake up feeling much more pleasant and able to start our day."

So, do you need a sunrise alarm?

The honest answer: It depends.

Everyone is different, and everyone has different sleep habits. But Dr. Jagdeep Bijwadia, a St. Paul sleep medicine specialist, sees the benefits. From an evolutionary standpoint, he says, it makes sense for people to wake up gently with increasing light. However, he said he'd need more scientific evidence before he recommends them.

"Anecdotally, I've had patients that feel that their sleep has really improved, and they feel more refreshed when they wake up with these devices. But again, that's more anecdotal than evidence-based," Bijwadia said. "I don't think that it's been studied enough, for example, for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to recommend one device over the other."

Michael Howell, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota, says sunrise alarms could be especially beneficial for night owls and those of us in the North who don't get adequate sunlight during the day.

"A tremendous number of people are struggling to get a good night's sleep and to be functioning during the day because their bodies basically do not understand what time zone they are living in," Howell said. "They're kind of suffering from a permanent jet lag, and one of the best ways to address that is to get bright light in the morning because we — in particular Minnesota and at higher latitudes — do not get bright, healthy sunshine in the morning."

Sunlight signals the brain to reset the circadian rhythm and release cortisol, a hormone that energizes the body to feel alert. The alarms act somewhat like a supplement, Howell continued.

"You're basically replacing what should be there already," he said. "A human being should naturally get bright sunlight all morning. That's what's natural for us, just like getting good nutrition, getting exercise and getting adequate hydration. That's normal. So if you don't get that, you should supplement it."

If you are interested in buying a sunrise alarm, shop with these tips in mind:

  • Light and sound should be synchronized. The best way to mimic a natural dawn is by allowing these elements to increase gently over time, Bijwadia said.
  • The device should reach a maximum brightness of 10,000 lux. Howell explained that the light should start to turn on about 30 minutes before you want to wake up so that it reaches peak brightness — which is very bright — by the time you want to be up and moving.
  • Mid-priced products are your best bet. Sunrise alarms typically range between $30 and $200. Moe explained that the cheapest devices might be disappointing, but the most expensive ones might have options that are unnecessary. "The technology is going to be very similar in most of the devices, so you don't need to end up investing a serious amount," she said. "Find something that's kind of in the middle that has all the features that you want, and go for that one."

If you don't want to invest in a sunrise alarm, here are some sleep tips to try:

  • Go to sleep earlier. These are four little words nobody wants to hear. But Moe insists that they have merit. People can't predict if they'll wake up in the middle of the night or when they'll wake up in the morning. So adding more time onto the earlier end of your sleep cycle may make up for missed minutes on the tail end.
  • Limit time cues in the bedroom. If you need a clock or an alarm in the bedroom, Bijwadia suggests you turn it to face the wall. Waking up in the middle of the night to see the time tends to make people anxious and restless.
  • Get natural light on your face. Howell says that 30 minutes of sunlight in the morning can help reset your circadian rhythm naturally. Exercise helps with sleep, too.
  • Wake up at the same time every day. If you do so, you don't need to constantly readjust your biological clock, said Bijwadia. "We shortchange sleep too easily. We try to be very careful about our nutrition and exercise. We're not as quick about our sleep, and sleep does impact every aspect of our emotional, mental and physical health."

Mary Ellen Ritter is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for Star Tribune.