I am stuck in a vicious cycle. My cat is an asshole who likes waking me up at 3AM. In pursuit of a more peaceful slumber (and a new life as an early riser), I turn to all sorts of gadgets and sleep tech. It works for a while, until my cat adopts a new strategy.
I drowned out his late-night yowls with the Bose SleepBuds II, until he started batting my face with his paws. I bought him a cat fountain so he’d stop knocking over the cup on my nightstand; he was pleased until he decided it was more fun to drink condensation in the bathtub and then scream. Inevitably, I wake up late and exhausted. Rinse and repeat.
I had hoped to break the cycle with the Amazon Halo Rise, a $139.99 smart alarm clock, sunrise lamp, and contactless sleep tracker rolled into one. And I think it might’ve worked if it weren’t for my pugnacious purry boy Pablo.
A sleepy jack-of-all-trades
I decided to review the Halo Rise because I’m struggling to transform from a night owl to an early bird. Outside a bout of insomnia, my talents include sleeping through three iPhone alarms, multiple vibrating smartwatch alarms, and most of my spouse’s nightly pilgrimages to the kitchen. (They seem unaware that potato chip bags crinkle 1,000 times louder at night.) I read somewhere that sunrise lamps can be an effective yet gentle way to wake up and was literally in the middle of researching which one to buy when my editor mentioned the Halo Rise.
On paper, the Halo Rise is an efficient option. It helps you wake up gently by mimicking natural morning light during your lightest sleep stage and has sensors to monitor ambient temperature, light disturbances, and humidity. You can link it with an Echo device, effectively turning it into another voice-controlled smart light. It’s small enough to fit on a crowded nightstand, and its minimal design is versatile enough to go with a variety of bedroom decor.
I was most wary of the Halo Rise’s contactless sleep tracking. Wearable or mattress-based sleep trackers tend to use a combination of motion sensors and heart rate data to determine which stage of sleep you’re in. There is no accelerometer or optical heart rate sensor in the Halo Rise. Instead, like the Nest Hub, it tracks sleep via a low-energy radar that analyzes your movement and breathing. Unlike the Nest Hub (and some smartphone sleep tracking apps), there’s no microphone, so it doesn’t record your snores or voices. There’s no camera, either. That’s great for privacy, but it also eliminates another data source. This ultimately means the Halo Rise’s radars and algorithms have to be on point for the sleep tracking to be accurate — and in my experience, radars in sleep gadgets can be hit or miss.
Bundling all of these features into one device is convenient, but as the saying goes, a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none. Nightstand real estate is precious; there’s no room for something that falls just shy of nailing everything it’s supposed to do. That’s where my head was at going into testing. Now that I’ve used it for a little over a month, I can say that my instincts were spot-on — but not because of the Rise.
Operation: sleep no meow
Setting up the Rise is easy peasy, but positioning it is tricky. Because it’s a contactless tracker, you need to aim it in the right direction. The app walks you through it, but the gist is that you have to:
- Place it on a nightstand such that the Rise’s metal stand is either the same height or up to eight inches above your mattress.
- Point it at your upper body.
- Ensure there’s about one arm’s length of distance between you and the Rise.
- Remove any objects between you and the Rise (though bedding is okay).
The hard thing is making sure that it stays this way. For me, that meant checking that my books, water bottle, and phone weren’t obstructing any part of the Rise before bed. You can set nightly reminders in the Halo app to check that everything’s positioned correctly, but that’s just one more notification for you to ignore on your phone. But even though I did everything right, there was one factor I couldn’t control: Pablo.
I first suspected something was off when I started comparing my historical Halo Rise sleep scores to what I got on the Oura Ring, Apple Watch Ultra, Garmin Fenix 7S Sapphire Solar edition, Polar Ignite 3, and several other wearables and sleep tracking apps I’ve been testing. I also keep a sleep and fitness journal, so I was able to cross-reference when I got a crappy night of sleep. Impressively, the Halo Rise was very accurate on a couple of nights when a persistent cough or insomnia woke me up. For those nights, my data and sleep stage graphs across all my test devices corresponded. On several days where I got really good sleep, the Halo Rise was able to recognize that, too. Again, my data corresponded across several platforms.
But there were also several nights when the data did not match at all. My wearable devices would say I’d slept soundly with few disturbances. Only the Halo Rise would say I’d been up for hours when I hadn’t. For instance, the Oura Ring would say I’d had about an hour’s worth of awake time. The Halo Rise would say I’d been sleepless for three to four hours. Sometimes those wakeful periods matched on sleep stage graphs. Other times, they absolutely didn’t.
I asked Dr. Michael Miyamoto, medical director for Amazon Halo, why that might be. Could my spouse’s midnight snacking confuse the Rise? According to Miyamoto, while it can’t be ruled out, it’s highly unlikely, as the Rise is programmed to focus on the body closest to it. Miyamoto also told me that people generally wake up several times during the night but only for a few seconds. The Rise only records it as a disturbance if it’s an instance lasting longer than five minutes. That’s about when I put two and two together. I asked if it were possible that a cat could wreck my results.
Here’s what you need to know about Night Pablo. Night Pablo loves chaos, nightstands, and creating chaos on my nightstand. A few times a week, I wake up to the sound of my glasses, books, phone, Nintendo Switch, or water bottle clattering across the floor. Why? It took us a long time to figure it out. It’s not that he’s hungry or thirsty; he has an automatic feeder and a fancy cat fountain. It turns out this crepuscular demon wants someone to witness him eating kibble. It’s beneath him to dine alone.
Night Pablo loves chaos
Pablo doesn’t always knock stuff off of my nightstand. He parks his fluffy butt there for myriad reasons. He loves playing with my charging cables. He loves sniffing my stuff. He likes having a launching pad for catapulting himself onto my spouse’s chest. Sometimes, he’ll sit right next to my head and demand scritches. (And if I don’t, he’ll bite.) It’s not every night, and I don’t remember every instance because I usually sleep like the dead. That said, I’ve sleepily witnessed it enough times over five years to know it happens.
In short, because the Halo Rise zeroes in on the closest body, it likely confused Pablo’s mischief-making as me being awake. I now have an inadvertent record of all the nights Pablo entered chaos mode. That, in itself, was startling. I knew Pablo sometimes made it difficult to get decent shut-eye — I just wasn’t aware of how much that added up to over time. I’ve since caught him in the act and corroborated it with the data the next morning.
Needless to say, if you want to use it as a sleep tracker, the Halo Rise is better suited to people who don’t have rambunctious kitties (or bed partners).
Good alarm clock, better smart light
Sleep tracking is just one of the things the Halo Rise can do. Pet-induced inaccuracies aside, it’s not a bad sleep tracking option if you feel uncomfortable wearing watches or rings to sleep. But I was more excited to try the smart alarm and sunrise lamp combo.
As mentioned earlier, I’m trying to become a morning person. So far, I’ve had mixed results. I set the Halo Rise’s smart alarm for 6:45AM. After a month, my success rate is about 45 percent. On the one hand, the Halo Rise’s default alarm sound is adorably cheery. It reminds me of my rice cooker — a tiny robot singing in a MIDI-esque voice so you know it’s time to do the thing. Even my spouse said it was the “least annoying alarm tone” and “kinda cute.” I’d attribute the 45 percent of the time I did get up to the audible alarm. If you don’t like cute bleeps and boops, you’re wrong, but you can also connect it to an Echo device to play music instead.
On the flip side, the simulated sunrise didn’t help me much. I sleep on my side, so when I’m turned away from the Rise, I don’t get any benefit. My back does. I also found it a little dim, but that’s a me problem. Most sunrise lamps are between 100 and 300 lux, and the Halo Rise is right in that range with a maximum of 300 lux. I simply didn’t find it bright enough because I apparently need a floodlight shining down on me to wake up. If you’re more sensitive to light (or sleep on your back), you might have greater success than I did.
The irony is that, when you’re awake, the Halo Rise is a good lamp — especially if you’re trying to nix blue light from your surroundings before bed. It was bright enough for me to read my books and Kindle Paperwhite in bed without feeling harsh or overpowering. While you can adjust brightness, you can’t tweak the color temperature; it’s just automatic variations on warm lighting.
But here, too, Pablo’s interference occasionally mucked things up. Because he liked to get between me and the Rise anywhere between 3AM and 6AM, it’d sometimes trip up the smart alarm. That’s because the smart alarm will go off within a 30-minute window of your alarm if it detects you’re in a lighter stage of sleep. Unless, of course, it confuses a moving cat for you. The alarm went off between 6:15 and 6:30AM a couple of times, and I’d smash the snooze / off button like I was trying to win a round of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Once I figured out it was Pablo’s fault, I turned off the smart part and settled for a “regular” alarm.
There were a few things Pablo couldn’t ruin for me. His existence had zero impact on the Rise tracking the temperature, humidity, or light disturbances in my bedroom. I already have a decent sleep setup — the temperature is always a pleasant 65–70 degrees Fahrenheit, and we recently got blackout curtains. However, it’s a dry winter, and I often wake up hacking up my lungs. The Rise confirmed that our bedroom is way too dry most nights, so we got a humidifier. When I remember to use it, it actually helps.
Amazon also sent me an Echo Show to try using alongside the Rise. You can, for instance, ask Alexa to show your sleep data on the Show. It worked when I tested it, but I didn’t find it useful. I preferred using the Rise as a smart light with my other Echo devices. The fact that you can use it in Alexa Routines and control it with voice commands is neat, especially if you’ve already invested in the Amazon smart home ecosystem. (It’s only compatible with Alexa.)
Let’s talk subscriptions
For $140, you get the Rise and a six-month trial of Amazon’s Halo service. After that, Halo costs $3.99 monthly. That’s relatively affordable as far as subscriptions go, but here’s why I’m not sold. For starters, the Halo app is fairly basic, and it’s not the easiest to view historical data if you’re a self-quantifying nerd. It’s really only worth paying if you use the Rise alongside the Halo Band or Halo View — and I recommend neither due to their bizarre body mapping and tone policing features. (Side note: if you use either tracker, Miyamoto says the app will prioritize the Rise for sleep data.) If you don’t give a flip about the Halo Band or Halo View, you still get nearly all of the sleep features and some workouts, recipes, and programs without membership.
Otherwise, $140 is on the pricier side but not egregious given the extra smarts and sleep tracking. For context, sunrise lamps can cost anywhere from $50 to $200 for one of Philips’ fancier lamps. When you put all of that together, I’m not sure why you would pay for the subscription if you plan on using the Rise by itself.
Ultimately, the Rise is the best Amazon Halo product thus far and the first new Amazon product I’ve liked in a long while. It’s the least invasive in the Halo lineup, and while it wasn’t perfect for me, that’s not the device’s fault. It’s Pablo’s.
And before you say anything, we’ve tried closing the bedroom door. It only leads to the cat destroying any breakable item he can find in retaliation. Since I love the hairy bugger and don’t plan on evicting him, I don’t think the Rise suits my needs. But if you don’t have a rascally pet, maybe you can have what I can only dream of: an uninterrupted night of sleep.