I Tried Waking Up Without an Alarm

OR a rooster!

09.23.16
waking-up-without-an-alarm-man-repeller-feature

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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