How To Wake Up Without An Alarm

photographed by Michael Beckert.
Maybe it's just my anxiety, but I have eight alarms on my phone set at 15-minute intervals that I switch on each night just in case I miss one and oversleep. It's excessive, I know, but I don't trust my body to wake me up on time. Sometimes I'll wake up right before my usual alarm time, which is spooky, but other times it feels like I could sleep all day. So, given how reliant I am on my iPhone to wake me up, I wondered if it's possible to train yourself not to need one at all?
For starters, it's pretty normal to feel like you need an alarm — or several — to get you going, says Daniel Barone, MD, a neurologist at the NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine Center for Sleep Medicine and author of Let's Talk About Sleep. On the flip side, if you usually wake up naturally a few minutes before your alarm goes off, that's a sign that you're getting enough sleep, and that could mean that you "don't necessarily need an alarm clock," he says.
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Unfortunately, most of us do require bells and whistles (and several cups of coffee) to wake us up, which is an indication that we're sleep deprived as a society, Dr. Barone says. In fact, humans tend to sleep an hour less than we did 100 years ago, he says. "Doesn't sound like much, but it has tremendous potential complications, one of those things being we actually have to rely on alarm clocks to get us going," he says. So, it's not really bad if you set 1 to 1 billion alarms each morning, but if you were getting enough sleep, you'd be able to wake up without it.
But just getting your 7-9 hours of sleep a night won't necessarily get you up on time every morning, because your body's rapid-eye movement (REM) cycles also have to be consistent, Dr. Barone says. When we fall asleep, our brain moves through different stages, he says. "What happens is after a period of about four or five sleep cycles, we typically wake up," he says. If you've had enough sleep, your brain will naturally wake up, and if you haven't had enough sleep at that point, you'll want to hit snooze. "Our brain is pretty accurate," which is why you're able to wake up at the same exact time in the morning, he says.
Although there are no real benefits to weaning yourself off an alarm, waking up without a jarring iPhone jingle sounds kind of nice. Technically, you can re-train your body to wake up around the same time, Dr. Barone says. "People who work shifts, for example, it's possible for them to realign their body clocks, but it's difficult to do," he says. The best thing you can do to increase your chances of rising au naturale is to go to bed at the same time each night — even on the weekends, he says.
When you do rise, it's important not to let yourself fall back asleep, because it will confuse your brain and make you think it's time to go back to bed. "Our brain is not like an on and off switch," Dr. Barone says. "You may be out of it for a few more hours than you would’ve been otherwise if you just woke up." And if you are prone to snoozing, well, you might want to set a few alarms — you know, just in case.
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