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I Tried Waking Up Without an Alarm

OR a rooster!

09.23.16
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MR Diets
MR Diets

I have always said that waking up is very stressful. There are things to begin worrying about (Am I being quietly strangled or is this just my face mask around my neck again? Whose birthday did I forget yesterday?), the day ahead to plan, bathroom wars with roommates to be had. More than once, I have had to ask myself why my sheets are soaking wet and then “calm” myself down with the knowledge that, oh, I just had a private Bikram yoga anxiety session while sleeping again; it’s not pee. Such levels of stress cannot be a healthy morning start. It feels uncivilized. But when waking up is the only way to start one’s day, what can you do, really? Other than stay asleep.

Perhaps you can change how you wake up!

I say “perhaps” like a British professor because yeah, fucking “perhaps.” Perhaps a bunch of blue jays could come and sing me awake like they did Cinderella. Perhaps the sun could climb in bed with me and snuggle the area under my neck like a kitten until I slowly and naturally open my eyes. I have always needed an alarm clock to wake up and according to science, this is the worst thing possible. Alarms only further morning stress. They are jarring to your circadian rhythm. They disrupt your natural sleep cycle and cause sleep inertia. What’s sleep inertia? It’s where you wake up blind and drunk, like a rotting walrus, regardless of how many hours you banked the night before. It is so fun.

Sick and tired (literally) of feeling like that, I decided to at least try a new approach. I crowdsourced first, asked a bunch of witches farmers friends who wake up without an alarm clock and here are some helpful tips that they offered me.

From my married friend whose husband wakes up at 5 a.m.: “Get a husband who wakes up at 5 a.m.”

From my friend with a baby whose toddler wakes up at 4 a.m.: “Have kids.”

From my friend who has a puppy that needs to be walked or else the puppy will pee everywhere: “Get a dog. Or a cat?”

Other alternatives were to explore newer themes on my standard anxiety and drink lots of water the night before.

So there I was, suddenly married out of nowhere despite a one-month-long dating dry spell with a baby, a dog, a full bladder and a different anxiety regime, as asleep in the morning as ever. It was time I stopped listening to my friends and started consulting the internet.

Multiple articles suggested the same things:

1) Wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends (start with an alarm clock, then wean off).

2) Do. Not. Snooze. It messes up the “wake up at the same time every day” progress.

3) Establish a pre-bed routine that promotes good “sleep hygiene.”

4) Make sure I don’t have any pre-existing medical conditions that could prohibit me from waking up. (Nope.)

5) The true shocker: Sleep enough, whatever that means. Eight if you’re traditional and six if you’re a bat. Except I also got the impression that once your body is trained to wake up, similar to those mornings after a night of drinking where you actually could have slept in, regardless of hours zonked, you’ll wake up.

Because everyone seemed to offer the same exact advice, I figured that they were all either copying one another or on to something. It was worth a shot. So I tried it. I dutifully set my alarm for 7 a.m. every single day for four weeks regardless of work, gym, errands, weekends, sleep hours or social obligations. I went to bed when I went to bed — I knew I’d be happier with more hours but needed to be realistic about my pre-existing habits. One thing at a time. I did not hit snooze; I did reestablish my nightly routine. I also tried something new: Each night I moved my phone further and further away from me. This made it more difficult to use my phone an hour before bedtime, which I already tried to put an end to earlier this summer. I think the fear of not hearing my phone is what woke me up in the morning, but that also meant I woke up with fear…not totally part of the no-stress-wake-up plan, but in terms of being alarm independent, it helped.

It took about three weeks of this before I hit a steady one-week-run without needing an alarm. I kept mine set, just in case, but at 6:55 every morning, like magic, I was awake. Then fashion week hit and my whole life got all screwy and I lost my momentum. I would wake up before my alarm…but I’d hit the snooze button and nap for another twenty. This ruined me. Travel to San Francisco came next which I guess caused jet-lag? Come Monday morning I was back to my old ways, requiring a shrill, piercing noise about one inch away from my face to shake me from my slumber. Defeat.

But the good news is I have a husband, a dog, a baby and a full bladder now. Remember? So I sort of have no choice but to try this all again next week. For my sake!

Feature illustration by Lily Ross.

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  • I really need to try this – I’m a chronic snoozer and I’m so groggy on a morning!

    – Natalie
    http://www.workovereasy.com

  • Aydan

    I’m so totally opposite! I don’t understand how people can snooze their alarms! This obviously stems from elite athlete training (aka hello doubles+) starting at age 12. I’ve also learned that WHAT you wake up to can really help. I’ve set up my super old ihome and ipod to Beach House and let me tell you that is one of the BEST ways to wake up! I often wake up 1-2 minutes in advance of my alarm, but on the days that I don’t I just hear the soft badass sounds of a great band!

  • This “wake up right before your alarm sounds” thing only happens with me after sleeping 8 hours. But I can say that it works! The only problem is that since I work and have other duties, I sleep 6:30 or 7 hours, and then I sadly have to wake up with my alarm. Anyway, I wouldn’t trust to sleep without a back up alarm.

    Check out my weekly inspiration post about interior stone walls, one of my favourite deco trends.
    http://www.mgluxurymarket.com/walls-out/

    Thanks!! MG

  • snakehissken

    My alarm is WNYC. I think it helps, it’s like I hear how everyone is up and about doing things and I should be too. I leave it on as I get ready for the day.

  • Lora

    I have to use one of those Philips wake-up alarm clocks with the sunrise simulator, otherwise I snooze for a freaking hour. Its pricey, yes, but a good investment. I like how it wakes me gradually instead of jarring me into a complete morning grouch.

    • Daria

      Me too! Best thing i bought! It made such a huge difference to how i wake up

    • Elinor

      Get one of these! They are brilliant

  • I watched 20 minutes of the Tony Robbins Netflix documentary last night and naturally woke up at 5:25am this morning to go to a yoga/martial arts/tribal bootcamp class at 7am. (I even ran most of the 1.5 miles home to shower before work)

    But I think I was mostly motivated to fit in one more class before my monthly Classpass cycle restarts tomorrow.

  • Molly D

    I bought an actual alarm clock which I’ve been using instead of my phone, which I now put in a different room. I feel more calm and civilized both going to bed and waking up without the desperate “has anyone texted me” checks throughout the whole sleep process.

  • “I say ‘perhaps’ like a British professor because yeah, fucking ‘perhaps.'”

  • My body has started waking itself up too. It usually always does if I have something super important the next day (a flight, etc) that I know I need to wake up for because I can’t stop thinking about it before I sleep.
    I recently started a new job that starts really early (6:30 – but I’m off at 2:30 which I why I like it), and ever since I started I’ve been paranoid about oversleeping/missing my bus/being late so I usually always wake up a few minutes before my alarm.
    And a hungry dog who walks on your pillow until you feed her doesn’t hurt either.

  • I am always snoozing away in the morning, probably should try this….just give me 5 more minutes… 🙂

  • t

    I may come off as an alien but this works for me: I used to visualize the time I wanted to wake up, looking at it in my mind as if I were actually looking at a clock to “set” the visual, then go to sleep. I always woke up exactly 5 mins before the alarm, saving me from having to be rudely jarred awake. I think that is amazing. Now I use a gentler tone on my phone alarm but it is always just a backup, because that technique works every time, even if I went to bed late.

  • Andrea Raymer

    I am one of the only people i know that uses an actual alarm clock. I set my alarm for seven and then hit the snooze button six times so it wakes me up in an hour. it is the smartest alarm clock ever.

    I have had weeks where i’ve managed to wake up before my alarm, but then the weekend comes and ruins it all. I definitely try to make my bladder wake me up, but it is mostly a way to actually get myself out of bed when my alarm goes off. I also got rid of my curtains.

  • Adardame

    Going to bed late is so easy to achieve, but going to bed on time makes me really happy with myself. And it’s important to be happy with myself. Exercising and not eating too many cookies are on that list, too. My progress in that area fluctuates wildly.

  • Katrine Loris

    Love this so much

  • Hannah Cole

    Guys I think my body clock is actually broken. Is there a doctor for that?
    No matter how many early alarms I set, I will only wake up when that buzzing in my ear starts to get a bit annoying, and I realise it isn’t actually a part of my dream…