My alarm clock is older than my marriage. It is the very alarm clock that Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly, has on her bedside table in You’ve Got Mail, which came out in 1998.

The Sony Dream Machine is a clock radio, a squat white square with glowing red numbers and a snooze button. It woke up my (now) wife and I in college in the late ’90s, a time when cellphones had just started to be a thing. 

Those phones, however, could do two things: make calls and receive calls. They did not wake you up unless someone had dialed you. Now, your cellphone can be your alarm clock (and probably is your alarm clock), but that doesn’t mean it should be your alarm clock. The Sony Dream Machine has been a stolid bulwark, helping me resist the temptation of technology. 

“Bringing a phone to bed raises a couple red flags,” says Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a sleep specialist at Keck Medicine of University of Southern California’s Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine. Besides flooding your eyeballs with blue light, which is bad for sleep, a phone also introduces unpredictability into a time of night that should, ideally, always follow the same motions. “You need a sleep routine,” Dasgupta says. “And the temptation to check your email or respond to a noise from your phone can break up that routine.”  

My phone goes to bed before I do. Each night I put it on the desk in my home office before I head upstairs, where the Dream Machine waits. It offers no documents to edit or Twitter to scroll. I do not jab at it and discover that an hour has leaked away.

Older digital Sony alarm clock radio in black and white
Photo: Raul Petri / Unsplash


When our Dream Machine died in 2010, I didn’t know what to do. The insistent, flat beep had become the sound of waking up across three cities and almost two decades. I guess I could upgrade, I thought. You can now get alarm clocks that shake you awake, mimic the sunrise or make you chase them to shut them off. But I didn’t want bells, and I didn’t want the whistle of an espresso maker with a built-in alarm. 

I just wanted the low-pitched beep, which I always hear as a polite, but rueful, robot assistant urging its human masters awake. So, I turned to the place where all forgotten technology goes: eBay. A week and $20 brought another Dream Machine into our life. 

Today, my wife and I have a dog, cat and two children to wake us up on their schedule. None of them have a snooze button. I cherish the rare mornings when I get to wake up to the familiar beep. 

“Good sleep is a puzzle,” Dasgupta says. “You never know which piece you’re going to be missing. Pick your alarm clock like your mattress. Find the one that suits you best.” 

Kathleen Kelly eventually found Joe Fox (Tom Hanks). I like to imagine them snuggling under the covers next to the blocky clock on the nightstand. I also found bliss. The Sony Dream Machine turned out to be the machine of my dreams.