Anna Pickard tests a light-emitting alarm clock

What is it?

Well, clearly it's an alarm clock. But it's not just any old alarm clock - the Lumie Elite is a special clock that promises to make the winter mornings easier.

How can it help?

There's nothing worse than waking up in the dark, with your first introduction to the day being the snapping on of a harsh bathroom light. With this device, a dawn simulator gently comes to life, either 15 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour before you wake up, so by the time the alarm sounds, it's at its brightest level. It's not exactly like having the sun rising outside your window, but it's a lot better than squinting into the mirror.

Studies have found that people feel better about their day when woken by a dawn simulator rather than the harsh and sudden buzz of an alarm in the dark - though granted, many of these studies were commissioned by manufacturers of dawn simulators. In my experience, the more serious, depressive symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (Sad) haven't really been alleviated by using the clock, but it has been easier to get up - and mornings have been a more productive time for me than they were previously.

What else does it do?

As well as waking you up with a gently rising level of light, you can choose the sound of your alarm - you want to be woken up to the happy chatter of breakfast FM radio? Done. You have a favourite song on your mp3 player that is the only thing that makes your morning go right? Just plug it in the back. There are also an array of happy-noises, designed to make the waking process even smoother, so you can greet the day with a chorus of bird song or the dulcet tones of a strange woman saying "One, two, three, come on! It's time to get up!". And if you're a sucker for a good honest 'beep beep beep' noise, it does that too.

Is it only for people who suffer from Sad?

No - it's also just a nice way of waking up. I found myself slowly coming to consciousness about ten to fifteen minutes before the light reached full strength and the alarm went off, and gently drifting in and out of sleep. For a serial snooze-button pusher, it was a pretty good substitute. It's also a device popular with shift workers, as it contains a sunset function. As you might expect, this works the opposite way, gradually fading the light until you have complete darkness. So in a room with all other light blocked out, it's easier for people with changing work patterns to create a sleep-inducing routine.

Though I go to sleep at the same time most nights, I find it very difficult to drop off - and in this area the clock worked really very well. You can programme a sleep sound to drop off to, such as the fading noise of a rainstorm, or the same sing-song woman leading you to the land of nod. If you're trying to block out external sounds, you can also programme the noise to continue all night.

Is it easy to use?

It certainly doesn't have the easiest user interface I've ever come across. Once you're used to how it works, it's easy enough to handle, but getting to grips with some of the quirkier aspects can be a bit of a struggle. With just one programme button to help you scroll through all the functions, there's a lot of index finger exercise just before you sleep. Woe betide you if you miss your intended stop - you'll have to scroll all the way through everything else before you get there again.

What if it doesn't work?

Lumie, like a lot of other suppliers, offer a 30-day-trial, so if you don't think it's working for you, you can send it back for a full refund. Of course, anyone who has suffered from Sad - or any other kind of depression - will know that if it isn't helping, you're unlikely to be able to get your energy or proactivity levels up high enough to send it back anyway ...

I suffer from Sad, and have been recommended light therapy. Should I get this instead of a lightbox?

You shouldn't think of a dawn simulator as a replacement for a lightbox. It doesn't have the strength of full-spectrum light that a lightbox would provide. It may help in smoothing the passage into the day, but isn't something that will alleviate the symptoms of Sad as effectively as proper use of a lightbox - though it can of course be used alongside one.

· John Lewis stocks a range of light-emitting alarm clocks. The Lumie Elite, as tested by Anna, will be available online soon

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