Hands up if this is how you start your day: startled out of your sleep by a blaring klaxon-like noise, blearily cracking your eyes open, identifying the source of the noise and shutting it off.
Then you have to drag your eyes back open in case you fall asleep again by mistake.
People nowadays are obsessed with finding the best morning routine, getting a solid start to their day and being their most productive selves.
When you’re building on a flawed foundation, you’re going to have trouble with your structure, no matter what. The same goes for mornings — if you’re starting in a bad way, even if you go for a five mile run, meditate for half an hour, and eat three raw almonds for breakfast, you’re not going to get the most out of your morning.
Why are alarm clocks so bad for you?
This goes back to pre-electricity times. We used to be guided an rules by our circadian rhythms. Our eyesight isn’t great, so when it got dark, we got sleepy. When it was light again, this was our cue to wake up.
This is why screens are bad for you at night: they trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime — and hence waking time.
Nowadays, we’re up before the sun and awake long after it sets. And to startle ourselves awake when our bodies are telling us it’s the middle of the night, go back to sleep, it requires some kind of outside stimulus to shock us into consciousness again.
Your body needs sleep. It probably needs more sleep that what it’s currently getting. So when you jolt yourself awake, what does that do to your brain and body?
- Your adrenaline is pumping. Your prehistoric brain is wide awake and on the lookout for threats.
- Your blood pressure and heart rate both elevate as a direct cause of the jolt.
Both of those have been linked to a lot of connected issues — for example, obesity and heart problems. Along with the stress of the alarm going off, having such an asynchronous internal alarm system is also making us drowsy during the day, and lacking in energy, motivation and productivity.
What other options are there?
1. Listen to your own body.
Part of the reason we’re so out of sync with our internal clocks is because we’re not getting those same cues to wake up and go to sleep because we spend a lot more of our time indoors.
We’re not getting the same signals to our brains that it’s time to wake up, and time to go to bed.
[Our internal circadian clock] acts as a pacemaker, synchronizing other cellular clocks that scientists believe exist throughout the body. — Till Roenneberg, professor at University of Munich’s Institute of Medical Psychology.
So you can either go outside more, or you can get lights set on dimmers and avoid screens when it starts getting dark.
2. Wakefulness detector
For a lot of us however, we use our screens way past outside darkness time, whether for entertainment or work, and we stay indoors for good reason.
In those cases, I’ve found that using an alarm clock app that detects when I’m surfacing near to wakefulness during my sleep cycle and wake me up then, is a great interim solution.
It’s not ideal — I’d prefer to wake up entirely alarm-free — but for now it’s inevitable.
This way, I can start my day without the prehistoric equivalent of a predator roaring right in my ears, and feel more refreshed, happy, and awake throughout the whole day.
Research suggests that when our alarm clocks force us awake when we’re deeply asleep, that grogginess doesn’t go away. It lasts with us throughout the whole morning, or even encroaching into our day.
Alarm clocks suck, both because of the stress they evoke on our bodies and minds, and also because they’re the worst part of the day — waking up.
But by optimizing your habits to synchronize with your own internal rhythms, or at the very least taking advantage of the natural light sleeping periods in your sleeping routine, you can finally become the morning person you always dreamed you could be.
Your productive, amazing, efficient morning is just one good awakening away.