BBRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNGGG! You jolt from peaceful dreaming to a harsh, unwelcome morning reality. It is time to wake up, and you are filled with dread. At best, you swat your clock in annoyance; at worst, you throw it through the nearest wall.
Or perhaps you prefer a less rude awakening: your favorite song from your smartphone, a light jingle, a musical vibration, all gently delivering you to wakefulness. But even these sounds quickly turn ominous as they become associated with sleeplessness, responsibility, schedules, and activity. Give it a week before your one-time summer jam becomes a harbinger of doom.
The thing is, waking up shouldn’t be such an anxiety-ridden event. It’s actually a good thing. The day you see your last morning is traditionally a cause for mourning, for all those around you. And moreover, waking up is a completely natural occurrence. Sleep isn’t a time for rest so much as preparation for the day ahead. Your body wants to be awake during the day the same way it wants to be asleep at night. So why isn’t waking up greeted by grins instead of groans? Could it be the alarms themselves creating an adversarial relationship with our body’s internal clock?
Alarms, of course, are startlingly effective in their objective, which accounts for their pervasiveness. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t at least occasionally use one to wake them up. But they are without a doubt stressful. Your fight-or-flight senses kick in and your adrenaline is boosted as if you were in imminent danger. This is an unhealthy practice, and with time, you’ll have the higher blood pressure and faster heart rate to show for it.
And of course, an alarm’s objective is to wake you up, not always to keep you up. Enter the infamous snooze button. The allure of “just 5 more minutes” is irresistible to the chronically underslept, but this bad habit is destined to only disappoint. Each time you wake and choose to snooze, you don’t get to pick up where you left off. Your sleep cycle starts over again, making it more than likely that when the alarm sounds again, you’ll be caught in a deeper, earlier phase of your sleep cycle. You’ll only feel more tired, grumpier, less sharp, and completely resistant to starting a new day than if you had simply rolled out of bed to begin with. Talk about waking up on the wrong side of the bed.
Most of us now use a smartphone as an alternative to a traditional alarm clock, only increasing the likelihood of disrupting your sleep. The blue light emitted from cell phones suppresses melatonin production in your body, commonly known as the sleep hormone. And with a phone right at your side at night, you’re very likely to spend your last waking moments scrolling through your news feed, or even worse, treating mid-night insomnia with a Facebook fix. Plus, who among us hasn’t suffered the humiliation of dropping a phone on our face while in bed? Best to avoid this cruel fate whenever possible.
Ok, so alarms aren’t ideal by any means. What’s the alternative? Missing work? Constantly arriving late to responsibilities and appointments? We’ll suggest a simpler, healthier solution: establish a sleep schedule.
Have you ever noticed those mornings where you wake up moments before your alarm sounds? You’ve likely sighed in disappointment upon the realization that you lost precious minutes of sleep, when in fact your body has done you a remarkable service. Your circadian rhythm is regulated by a protein called PER, which rises and falls each day. At their lowest, you begin to feel sleepy. If you are consistently waking up at the same time throughout the week, your body adjusts, increasing the PER levels and releasing stress hormones to help prepare your body for waking right on time. All to avoid hearing that jarring alarm.
You can take advantage of this and reward these natural occurrences by training your body to always get the sleep it needs and wake up on time by itself. Determine how many hours of sleep you need at night, usually between 7-9 hours for adults. Then, simply count backwards from when you need to be up in the morning. Find a relaxing nightly routine to follow, from reading a book to preparing for the day ahead to drawing a warm bath. Give yourself a little padding if you take longer to fall asleep or have a hard time strictly sticking to your schedule. (Editor’s note: I set an alarm reminding myself to get ready for bed an hour or so before my preferred bedtime. It’s too easy to get caught up in work or daily activity and lose track of time.) Keep it as dark as possible in your room, and when you wake in the morning, let some sunlight in to help reinforce the contrast between day and night. And sure, if you’re still nervous about oversleeping, set a backup alarm for later than you’d usually wake just in case.
The longer you follow this pattern, the more ingrained it will become and the less you’ll need to rely on that dreaded morning screech. Your body knows you need day and night in equal measure to live a healthy life. It doesn’t need a reminder.