How To: Calm Your Alarm Clock's Display and Sleep Better for 25 cents

How To:  Calm Your Alarm Clock's Display and Sleep Better for 25 cents

I'm a terrible sleeper. I struggle with falling asleep, and staying asleep. I got it from my dad, and I've tried meditation, different levels of mattress and pillow softness, earplugs, heavy curtains, and everything I can think of. And I've learned a few things over the years of trying to feel rested: I need a little bit of distraction to occupy my mind to fall asleep, and once I'm there, I need an absolutely black and silent room to stay that way.

Thusly, I did everything I could to not upgrade my alarm clock I'd had since I was ten. Not an analog clock with hands (the ticking drives me nuts), but a basic, electronic LED red alarm clock that told me the time, had a non-distracting face, and stayed out of the way. 

And then it broke, and I needed a new one. So I went to the store, and bought a basic, simple replacement. And it glowed like a freaking train engine. I mean it: I could read by the light of this thing. So, I took it back, and tried another. Same thing. See, most contemporary alarm clocks are lit by LCDs, and apparently, LCDs are really bright, and I mostly hate them.

It took four more alarm clocks, and I finally found an alarm clock that has an adjustable brightness. Brilliant! Plus, I can charge my phone and listen to music with it. But, it's still pretty bright in an otherwise dark room. Luckily, I came up with a solution that helped immensely, for only a quarter.

created at: 02/15/2011

Materials and Tools

  • Alarm clock
  • Measuring tape or ruler
  • Semi-transparent, colored plastic binders dividers ($1.19 for 5 at the office supply store)
  • Scissors and/or craft knife

created at: 02/15/2011

1) Begin by measuring the display of your alarm clock. Don't just say, "It's roughly 3 x 1 inches;" be very exact, and don't be afraid of figures like "19/64s".

created at: 02/15/2011

2) Cut a strip the same height as the display, and then cut it to length. My display has rounded corners, so I tried to mimic that.

3) You might be lucky, and the new "diffuser" might stick by static cling. Mine didn't, so I spritzed just a little water on it, let it nearly dry, then smacked it on. It's stayed in position for two weeks, and doesn't seem like it'll go anywhere.

Here are two photos to compare the difference. Of course, it's tough to take pictures of a tiny light source in the dark, but here's the alarm clock before and after, using the same exposure (F1.8, 1/60, ISO 1000) on both images. As I mentioned above, the clock does have an adjustable brightness, but both of these are taken on the dimmest setting, I promise. (You can see that the lighted buttons above are the same)

created at: 02/15/2011

And with the addition:

created at: 02/15/2011

It may not look like a huge difference in the photos, but in a dark room, it's like night and day. Sorta literally... It does change the color, which I think actually helps, but the biggest difference is in the reflections. Without the addition, the light bounces off my dresser and the walls the surround it, lighting up the whole corner. With the binder divider attached, the reflection is calmed a lot, and the overall brightness is much subdued. You can still see the numbers clearly at nighttime and during the day.

Pretty sweet, huh? 

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Karen on Mar 20, 2019:

You can also use ladies pantyhose. Cut a part of the foot off. Then slide that over the clock. It works perfectly. Too bright still ? Use the 2nd foot cut out and put that over as well for a double layer.

Kyle on Jan 28, 2018:

Hey Chris,

I appreciate the detailed guide. Unfortunately, the colored binder dividers did almost nothing to dull my display.

My issue was not a bright *backlight* like yours -- my display has no backlight. Instead, my issue is the brightness of the numerals themselves, which are super bright red LEDs.

Here's the solution that I ended up on:

- A cut-out of a manilla folder, taped onto the display with clear packing tape, followed by a strip of blue painter's tape (i.e., masking tape).

Finally, the display is not painfully bright! The only problem now is that the numbers are so blurry that I can barely make them out...

Stephanie on Nov 22, 2017:

THANK YOU! It totally worked and didn't cost a thing as we had all needed at home already. Same thing happened with us; red LED from alarm clock was fine until clock broken and we couldn't find another with red numerals. We settled for a green LED but it was so bright, I couldn't sleep! Thank you again!

Joseph Collins on Jul 27, 2016:

Huh. Clear, plastic binders... I was using cling wrap for my bright green LED (LCD?) clock, but it wasn't dimming the display enough for my licking. Looking at the photos… I think this might be what I was looking for. Thank you!

Dave on Jun 26, 2016:

Great idea.
Had the same problem with the room being lit up. My timex had been red led so the change was brutal.
Made it work with a cut out piece of a plastic bag from Dodger stadium. Perfect dark blue tint, and best of all, free!

Linda on May 13, 2016:

I see that this site is old...but I am now going to search my home for something like this plastic to fix that horribly bright glow. You are a genius.

Peter palmer on Mar 27, 2016:

I did exactly the same thing with my same iHome radio but I used car window darkening film. I went to a local window car place and asked for a small piece that I triple layered to make it almost unreadable in daylight but so subtle at night. Like a dim glow. Love it. Only now wish it would be brighter in the day, and power my newer iphone!

minch on May 27, 2015:

I have a "radio controlled thermo clock" that lights up only when you touch the front screen panel. So you can see the time at night by tapping it lightly. The rest of the time it cannot be seen (completely visible in day light or with the lights on). Best alarm clock ever!! There is no brand but I know it was bought at Selfridges in London. 

Liz on May 07, 2015:

Great idea, but blue is the wrong color for a night clock. The brain reacts to blue light by thinking it's daytine (blue skies!) and triggering wake hormones instead of sleep hormones.   You don't sleep as well.  Ideally, you want red lights at night, which the brain reacts to as evening (sunset), get ready to sleep. 

JIM on Nov 06, 2014:

dose any one know of a clock that remains dark to a touch or wave  for a night table

Anonymous on Oct 18, 2014:

I went to a window tinting shop and they gave me a strip of tinting. They throw out a lot of it when they trim windows. It took two layers to make my clock dim enough. I put the tinting on the face of the clock. It looks fine.

C.C. on Sep 09, 2014:

I just altered the circuit on mine to reduce the voltage applied to the LEDs; while still keeping the dimmer function intact. Set on low for night, which is barely visible, and high setting for daytime.

hmcgu on Apr 25, 2014:

I know what you mean. The leds are way too bright. Bright LED Shades makes an adhesive plastic that covers over the led to cut way down on the glare. Nice and sleek. And it pulls off without any sticky residue. Just a thought.

Carol on Apr 21, 2014:

Thank you!!!  This has been driving me crazy for years and I usually just drape a tissue or 2 over it to block the light.  Glad to know I'm not the only one that likes it completely dark at night.

Toni on Aug 20, 2013:

Fantastic idea!!
Thank U!
I can toss the dark washcloth covering my clock and now my hubby can see the time without it shining like daytime!

Scott in Wisconsin on Aug 03, 2012:

I tried using window tint. Don't buy it though, (seriously, you'll buy 12 yards for a small piece?) just find a place that does window tiniting and cut a piece out from the scraps they toss in their dumpster. FREE! But I am going to look into the plastic folder option for my new clock.

imdb on May 25, 2012:

I have an extra eye sleep mask. I put that around the alarm clock. It blocks all the light. And really, I don't need to know what time it is until the alarm goes off!

MollyK. on Feb 15, 2012:

I have had a travel clock for years that speaks the time when I press the top; I use this to get the time in the middle of the night if I need it.  I've read, however, that our brain/body requires complete darkness to re-set  and get genuine rest so I just cover my new bright alarm clock (that emits a very quiet foresty or beachy white noise for a pre-set time) with a dark blue fabric every night and I don't keep any other electronic gadget in the bedroom.

Suzie on Feb 13, 2012:

I had the same situation years ago... I didn't think of the plastic folder covers... great idea.  What I used was colored cellophane (on a roll, for wrapping gift baskets, or floral bouquets, etc)... I folded it several times, and tested the thickness against the clock to see how thick to make it to dim the numbers enough.  When it was thick enough, I cut it to fit, and used double stick tape to secure the layers together, then dub-stick tape to secure it to the clock window.  It worked great for many years til I bought new clocks.  I just wish I could come up with something for my Visio tv in the bedroom... it has bright Visio lettering that comes on in the middle of the screen when the tv is off.  I can't cover it without interferring with the picture screen.  grrr  I'll never understand why some electronic manufacturers do this to their consumers.  I love the tv... but wouldn't buy another one due to that one irritating feature!

Luke on Feb 06, 2012:

Hi there. I'm posting to say, first of all thank you for the idea! I managed to calm my alarm clock but I made a slight change to make it even neater. Basically I took apart the alarm clock. On mine the display is mounted on a flat circuit board that's screwed into a plastic frame with a square hole in it for the display. I basically cut a dark blue copybook cover twice as large as the hole, folded it in half (to get double thickness, because it's a VERY bright alarm clock) and put it in the hole. Then I placed the display on top of the plastic, screwed it in and reassembled the alarm clock. So basically in front of the display I have the copybook cover, but it's all inside the clock - so the advantage of this method is that once assembled the clock actually looks no different than a regular alarm clock! And the only way to dislodge the plastic is to take apart the alarm clock again :) Thanks again for the tip.

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