Think about it. If you were to intentionally plan a bad day for yourself, would it start by waking up naturally, or by jolting awake to the most annoying sound in the world?
I’m assuming the latter.
Now, you may be saying to yourself, “that sounds great and all, but I have to be up at exactly 6:00am for work. Shutting off my alarm just isn’t feasible.”
Well, actually, yes it is.
You see, your body has its own internal clock known as the “circadian rhythm”; a system we relied on long ago, in a world without artificial lighting and night shifts. Unfortunately, with our irregular sleep patterns and caffeinated lifestyles, we’ve all but disavowed ourselves from the chime of our internal clocks.
And regular interruption of that rhythm has serious, long-term repercussions.
In this article, we’ll explore ways of reprogramming your body’s natural alarm clock, as well as the pros and cons of doing so.
In the guide:
- The benefits of sleeping and waking without an alarm clock
- How to train yourself to wake on time naturally
- Disadvantages of sleeping without an alarm clock
So why wait until the weekend to shut off your alarm when you can do it right now?
Benefits of Sleeping and Waking without an Alarm Clock
It reduces stress
In addition to increasing blood pressure and heart rate, waking up in fight-or-flight mode produces high levels of the stress hormone Cortisol.
Over time, heightened levels of Cortisol causes adverse effects such as, increased risk of heart disease, weight gain, and a general weakening of the immune system.
You see, the human body wasn’t designed for the adrenal spikes induced by modern society. Rushing to work, meeting deadlines, and navigating rush hour traffic leave us with about 10-12 adrenal spikes per day (even more for those of us with anxiety).
This means that we need to work extra hard to actively distance ourselves from stress triggers, beginning with the very first trigger of the day- the alarm clock.
By eliminating the first guaranteed adrenal spike of the day, we’re setting a precedent for the following twelve hours. A statement that while yes, I have deadlines and external stressors, I can control the way I respond to them. And the best way to respond to life’s demands is with a clear head, and a healthy heart rate.
It improves cognitive function
Research has shown that people who are woken abruptly during a deep sleep cycle functioned at a mere 65% of their normal mental capabilities for the first ten minutes after waking.1
For reference, this is equivalent to the cognitive function of someone who is drunk or has gone 26 hours without sleep.
Though cognitive function did improve after the initial ten minutes had passed, lingering effects persisted over the course of the next two hours.
Now, think about the kinds of tasks you’re faced with in the first two hours of the day: getting the kids ready for school, responding to emails, navigating rush-hour traffic…
These are all tasks that require optimum cognitive function.
By allowing your body to wake when it’s ready to do so, you’re able to treat these tasks with the respect and attention they deserve.
It reduces insomnia
Do you ever spend the entire work day wishing you could take a nap, only to come home and not be able to fall asleep?
Sure you have. We all have. It’s called sleep anxiety, a condition characterized by racing thoughts in the night which prevent us from sleeping.
You see, when we worry, our bodies are tricked into believing that there’s an immediate, lurking danger, and respond by releasing stimulating stress hormones such as the previously mentioned Cortisol.
In reality, this danger is oftentimes nothing more than the dread of waking up to our alarm clock, or worrying that it won’t go off in the first place.
Think about it. When have you ever had sleep anxiety on a weekend?
By ditching the sonic time-bomb on your nightstand, you’re better able to let your guard down and get a good night’s sleep without the worry of being jolted awake first thing in the morning.
Okay, so you’re convinced. Now what?
In the next section, we’ll discuss some tried and true methods of learning to wake up on time without an alarm clock, as well as a few supplementary tools you can use to further ease the transition process.
Training Yourself to Wake without an Alarm Clock
In order to train your body to wake up at a regular time, you’re going to have to create a regular routine. This means going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning.
It’s as simple as that.
In fact, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is the only way of reprogramming your circadian rhythm, i.e., your body’s natural clock.
Below are some ways to ease the reprogramming process:
1. Modify your alarm
Setting your alarm earlier than usual (by an hour or so) is the easiest way to get your body used to waking up at a new time. However, because your body’s natural rhythm isn’t as precise as a 6:15am alarm, falling instead within the range of an hour or so, you’ll want to give yourself a 60-minute window of buffer room by training yourself to wake up an hour earlier than usual.
The best way to ease this process is by decreasing the volume of your alarm, or simply changing it entirely.
Although it is a bit spendy, Sound Oasis sells an Light/sound/aroma alarm clockthat is perfect for transitioning away from your alarm clock.
This multi-functional device is about the size of your average alarm clock and is designed with the purpose of simulating the process of waking up naturally. This is achieved through a gradual increase of natural ambient sound (such as birds, running water, etc.) beginning fifteen minutes prior to the time you’ve set your alarm.
The device also doubles as a sleep aid, as it includes an aroma bowl for melting scented wax, as well as an ambient/white noise function that can be set on a 30, 60, or 90-minute loop while you fall asleep.
In short, this product is an excellent substitute for your alarm clock, and an awesome transitory tool for weaning away from your alarm clock.
Alternatively you can replace your alarm with a wake up light. A wake up light shines a bright light on your face, simulating sunrise. A much gentler way to wake up than your thundering alarm clock. Philips sells some of the most popular wake-up lights on the market.
2. Use a Sleep Tracker
When we sleep, we don’t actually sleep steadily throughout the entire night. When graphed, our sleep cycles look more like the ocean’s waves, with plateaus of wakefulness followed by troughs of deep slumber, ebbing and flowing in 90-minute intervals.
Ideally, you want to train your body to wake as it was naturally intended- during a plateau of wakefulness.
One way of doing this is to use a sleep tracker.
Sleep trackers come in many forms, ranging from watches with motion-tracking capabilities, right down to an app you can download on your smartphone.
Not only do these sleep trackers provide you with data detailing the quality of your sleep, they also wake you up during a wakeful plateau when it’s ideal to do so!
Simply download the app and place your phone under your pillow. The app will then use your phone’s motion sensors as well as microphone to detect subtle interruptions in your sleep, thereby gauging and graphing the quality of your sleep, and determine the best time to wake you with a gentle alarm.
Note: Sleep trackers range in price from a $3.99 app for your smartphone all the way up to a multifunctional $250 fitness watch, so you’ll want to shop around for what works best for you and your budget.
Take steps to ensure you’re tired at night
This is an obvious one, but an important one.
Make sure you’re tired at night! No gadget, gizmo, or sleeptime strategy can help you sleep and wake in a routine cycle if you’re wired with caffeine or spent the late afternoon napping.
1. Avoid caffeine and naps after 3:00 p.m
As a rule of thumb, avoid energy drinks, coffee, and naps (and coffee naps) after 3:00pm. While you may feel groggy in the 3:00-5:00 p.m slump, it sure beats wakefulness at 11:00 p.m-3:00a.m.
Instead of reaching for stimulants or giving into sleep, try boosting your energy naturally instead. This means taking time to stretch, taking a fifteen-minute break to walk a lap around the house or office, or even just ensuring you’re adequately hydrated.
2. Exercise in the evening
Another way of ensuring exhaustion at bedtime is to switch your workout schedule to evenings rather than mornings. By working out at night, you’re not only going to bed physically exhausted, but also reaping the benefits of those anti-anxiety “feel good” chemicals.
Having made the transition to working out at night, myself, I’ve noticed that my nighttime anxiety has been entirely eliminated. In the two years since making the switch to exercising at night, I honestly can’t recall a single instance in which I’ve worried myself into insomnia; an inconvenience that had once been a weekly occurrence.
Regulate your sleep cycle
Melatonin is a natural hormone that regulates your body’s sleep cycle. Levels typically rise in the late afternoon, peak in the night, and then return to baseline in the morning.
However, because the release of melatonin directly correlates with the body’s exposure to light, those of us who live in cloudy, northern climates, or who work late into the night under artificial lighting are at a distinct disadvantage, with our bodies producing irregular and inconsistent amounts of the hormone throughout the day.
In short, winter and fluorescent lighting throw our circadian rhythm out of whack!
Due to the fact that our body relies on the circadian rhythm to gauge time, and subsequently sleep and wake at the appropriate hour, we need to ensure that melatonin and exposure to light are in healthy proportion.
Because 6-8 months of my life is spent in cold and cloudy Minnesota, I rely on a melatonin supplement before bed and a light box in the morning to keep my hormones in check.
Melatonin supplements can be found in the vitamin section of virtually every grocery store and generally runs about $5 for a 90 night supply.
And while it doesn’t require a prescription, you should still check with your doctor before starting this or any supplement.
Natural light therapy (light boxes)
A light box (sometimes sold in the form of a lamp) is a suitcase-shaped projector that casts natural, Vitamin D generating light throughout the room.
Because this light is so similar to natural sunlight, it makes getting up in the dark, early morning hours seem feel as though you’re waking up to a bright sunrise and lets the body know it’s time to start the day.
It also provides immediate results. In fact, 15-30 minutes of exposure is all you need.
Personally, I’ve set my own lightbox on a high shelf in the kitchen and turn it on while I eat breakfast in the morning.
Note: Check with your insurance provider before purchasing a light box. I paid next to nothing for a $300 model as my doctor recommended it for treating my Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Execute (on a weekend)
Once you’ve gotten into the rhythm of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, check your progress by doing away with your alarm entirely the night before your day off.
However, keep in mind that this means you’ll have to resist the urge to stay up later than usual on a Friday night. Remember, consistency is the name of the game here, and in order to maintain your body’s natural cycle, you’ll have to go to bed at the same time as you did Monday through Thursday.
But for those who’ve weathered the adjustment with steadfast diligence, taking great pains in maintaining precision in their rhythm, starting as early as the following Monday is an absolute possibility.
Use your Saturday or designated day off as a litmus test for gauging the accuracy of your circadian rhythm.
Disadvantages of Sleeping without an Alarm Clock
Of course, as with all things in life, what floats one boat sinks another. For some, sleeping without an alarm clock just isn’t practical. Below are some of the drawbacks to relying on your body’s natural rhythm:
Emergency workers and those with fluid schedules
Sleeping without an alarm clock simply isn’t practical for those with “on-call” status such as doctors, emergency workers, police, and all other types soft-schedule work.
Whatever the case, if your schedule is subject to change, then relying on your body’s natural rhythm isn’t practical. In fact, it may not even know its own, natural rhythm depending on the frequency of change in your schedule.
If this is the case, then consider using alarm alternatives I mentioned earlier in the article. Given the fact that these machines simulate and provide the same benefits of waking naturally, using the gentle alarm provided by these devices is the next best thing to waking with the sun. Much better than the jolt of a buzzing alarm.
The biggest drawback of relying on your body’s natural sleep cycle for waking at the appropriate time is that it demands strict consistency. This means that one night of staying out too late with friends can throw off the next three days of your circadian rhythm.
Even one night of insomnia could be enough to throw your timing out of whack.
And while having a late night out with friends every now and then or a bout of insomnia before a deadline are both completely natural and inevitable aspects of our lives, it’s best to first make an assessment of your current lifestyle before making the commitment to sleeping without an alarm clock.
After all, maintaining a natural rhythm is just that- a commitment.
How do you wake up on time? Share your technique in the comments section below!