The importance of sleep without an alarm clock
We, as humans, are creatures of habit. Over the years, I’ve jumped in and out of using an alarm clock — each with their own successes and failures.
In these past few months, I’ve stopped using an alarm clock and naturally wake up around 6:30 am without any prompting. It’s not bad, considering that I go to bed around 11–11:30 pm.
Arianna Huffington wakes up without an alarm clock. The same goes for Oprah Winfrey. Jeff Bezos lets himself wake up naturally too.
The case against alarm clocks
For some people, alarm clocks work.
For a majority of us, it’s got a negative association.
It’s as bad as waking up on a Monday morning and commuting into work at peak traffic. It doesn’t matter if you like your job or not — the experience of waking up just sucks. Unfortunately, your alarm clock becomes the scapegoat to your morning misery.
When we use an alarm clock to wake us up, we’re not listing to how our body is really feeling.
Personally, I fluctuate when it comes to the time I call it quits and head off to bed. On a normal day, I sleep by midnight. On a day where I’ve been out and about, doing about a million things, then I call it a day much earlier. There are some days where I get home and head off to bed at 8pm because my body told me to. The earliest I’ve ever gone to bed as an adult is probably 6:45pm.
On those days, I don’t bother to push through. There’s no point. It would only mess me up for the next day.
Your day started last night
Every living organism runs on a cycle of some sort. The human body functions in a 24 (ish) hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm (circa “about” diem “day).
It’s a physiological process that exists in living beings all living beings — including animals, plants, fungi, and even cyanobacteria. When this physiological process gets disrupted, it reduces the ability for cells to operate at an optimal level.
A study by the University of Basel, Switzerland, found that an impaired circadian clock compromises mitochondrial function. Our mitochondria are small organelles (tiny cellular structures that perform a specific function within a cell) that exist to supply our cells with energy. It plays an important role in cellular processes. If the mitochondrial network loses its rhythm because the circadian clock is impaired, there is a strong correlation between a decline in cell energy production.
Our chronotype determines the speed of your circadian cycle and how we function as humans throughout the day. Not everyone runs on the same exact 24-hour cycle. Some are faster and slower than others. Slightly faster-paced people are often known as morning people. They are awake and alert at dawn without any issues. Evening people reach peak performance at dusk because it takes their body a bit longer reach their apex in energy production.
Studies have found that there are up to 22 genetic variants related to chronotypes — hence the variety of peak performance times. It’s also why some people need midday naps more than others.
The unnaturalness of alarm clocks
This self-imposed external force makes sure you get up at a specific time each day. I remember setting my alarm up half an hour in advance to when I’m supposed to wake up because I just keep turning it off.
There is growing research that shows the adverse health implications of a disrupted circadian rhythm such as obesity and cardiovascular events, along with correlations with depression and bipolar disorder.
When we rely on alarm clocks, we rely on an external thing to determine our optimal time to wake up. As a result, we tend to ignore the signs of tiredness our bodies give out the night before. We ignore our sleep cycles and willing let an external object intrude our natural processes.
We sleep later than we should, even if it’s your usual same time. We binge watch some Netflix because you just have to know what’s going to happen next. Then we feel groggy the next day and the day after for it.
Sleep is one of those things that you can’t bank up but payback massive interests over time through decreased performance.
How to wake up without an alarm clock
To wake up at a specific time, you’ll need to shift the time you go to sleep. It takes a bit of practice but once you’ve figured it out, you won’t need to rely on an alarm clock ever again.
Here is how and why I do it.
Determine how tired I feel
Every day at around 6pm, I stop for a moment and decide how tired I feel. From there, I decide what time I’ll go to sleep. If I feel completely drained from the day, then I’ll have my dinner, take my shower and then call it a night.
If I feel somewhat still alert, then I do the same reassessment at 8pm. It’s different for everyone but the important part is to be aware of what your body is trying to tell you.
I don’t push through. Instead, I prioritize my sleep because it means that I won’t feel like a walking blur the next day.
Have a cut off point, even if I don’t feel tired
There are days where I get a bit hyped up from whatever I’m doing. I still feel alert and alive. Despite this, I enforce a hard cut-off point at 11pm. This means that at around 10:30pm I start doing the final wrap up of whatever I’m doing.
I turn off my devices and start my nightly routines like brush my teeth and intentions list for the next day. The lack of blue light from devices is usually good enough to get me feeling sleepy as well.
Say no coffee after midday
It wasn’t too long ago that I turned into an insomniac and decided to quit coffee cold turkey.
I’m back to drinking the black liquid again but only in the morning. It’s my one cup — not because of the buzz but because, as I recently discovered, I like the taste of coffee. I’ve yet to try decaff to see if it has any impact on my ability to function during the day. Maybe I’ll give a go in a month or two.
I now make it a rule for myself to not have any coffee after midday. There have been times where I’ve slipped up and I usually pay the price for it the next day because of how bad my sleep was.
Practice sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene is the collective term for your bedtime rituals and habits. If you consistently pull late nights and hang out with your mobile phone an hour or two before bed — then you have bad sleep hygiene.
If you brush your teeth, hang out with your cat or nestle into your bed with a book, then you have better sleep hygiene.
In short, good sleep hygiene is that your pre-sleep ritual allows you to wind down and truly clock out rather than further stimulate you. When you’ve got good sleep hygiene, you’re not a clock watcher. You listen to your body and go to sleep when you’re tired.
It does take a little bit of practice to get right — but the key is to go to bed earlier if you want to be certain that you’ll wake up on time. For the first few nights, I went to bed much earlier than I would in order to make sure that I’ll definitely wake up on time.
The first few nights was a hit or miss. Some nights I would fall asleep quite quickly. Some nights I would just lie there until I fell asleep. Over time, I got better at figuring out my sleep cues and understanding what my body is trying to tell me when it comes to true tiredness levels.