Alarm Clocks: Is There a Better Way to Wake Up?

Alarm Clocks: Is There a Better Way to Wake Up?

Our team at SleepWatch realizes that sometimes an alarm is unavoidable and necessary. That’s why we created the SleepWatch Smart Alarm. But, what does science have to say about alarms?

Since the dawn of time people have relied on external cues such as the rising sun, the crow of a rooster, the peal of a church bell, and more recently the harsh buzz of an alarm clock to start their day. It’s estimated that 80% of adults use an alarm clock during the week to start their day, however, only one in seven wakes up feeling rested daily.

The majority of us depend upon alarm clocks and they clearly are entrenched in modern life. Alarms keep us on schedule in a society that demands punctuality for work, school, and that early morning workout. If you are attempting to regulate your sleeping pattern, an alarm clock may help train you to awaken at the same time each day.

Simply put, alarm clocks are effective but they do have some drawbacks. Older digital clock radios may emit too much light. Smartphones are frequently used as an alarm, and there is a tendency for people to check emails, text friends, or play one last game prior to lights out - habits that can be detrimental to a good night’s sleep. People who worry about not falling asleep may lie awake staring at their alarm clock counting the minutes until they need to wake up, which can paradoxically cause insomnia. A simple solution: if you need an alarm, do not look at the clock until you are finished sleeping. Turn away, dim, or cover the face of any bedroom alarm clock and if you use your wearable to track your sleep then be sure to dim its display.

Do you rely on the snooze button to catch some extra ZZZ’s? Sleep science suggests that's a bad idea. Humans cycle through three phases of sleep approximately every 90 minutes: light, deep, and REM. People who awaken while they are in light sleep are less groggy and more alert than those that awake from deep or REM sleep, and this has been documented [2] in a number of studies. A traditional alarm clock wakes you without regard for your stage of sleep, circadian rhythm, or other physiologic changes and may be associated with impaired cognitive and sensory-motor performance (due to sleep inertia) that may take several hours to dissipate.

Would you like to join the ranks of people who don’t have to rely on an alarm clock? In a prior blog post we talk about circadian rhythm, our body’s internal alarm clock. Our internal clock regulates sleep patterns through its effect on two hormones, melatonin and cortisol. It is also adjusted on the basis of ambient light and external clues, such as temperature and meals, as well as one’s genetic make-up. Sticking to a good sleep rhythm by going to bed and arising the same time each day, and getting the recommended of sleep each night (at least 7 hours for adults) allow the body to fine tune its internal clock. A well-tuned internal clock lets your body naturally wake you in a light stage of sleep at the same time each day. Unfortunately, in the absence of good sleep rhythm, many daily functions such as the time of meals, exercise, or ambient light may cause our internal clock to become unbalanced.

If you have succeeded in managing your sleep well enough to not require an alarm, congratulations! If you are reliant on the alarm clock, here are a few tips to improve your chance of waking well rested. Most people can’t alter the time they have to get up so plan bedtime accordingly to allow for the amount of sleep time you need. Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, large quantities of water and heavy meals especially those that are spicy or energy-rich late in the evening. Avoid digital technology and don’t bring work into the bedroom. Avoid heavy exercise late in the evening. Keep the room dark, the temperature at 68 degrees, and develop a pre-sleep routine that gets you relaxed. If your desired wake-up time is aligned with the sunrise, try leaving a crack in the window covering to allow daylight to enter the bedroom in the morning. If you must get up before the sun rises, consider putting a light on a timer that gradually increases in intensity. Follow all these suggestions and you might find yourself waking refreshed and ready to start your day before that alarm clock goes off.

Waking up from a deep state of sleep can cause us to feel more groggy and disoriented. To help avoid this, we designed the SleepWatch Smart Alarm to wake you with a gentle vibration when you appear to be in a light state of sleep during a 30-minute wake-up window that you configure. If the Smart Alarm doesn’t detect that you are in a light state of sleep during your wake-up window, it will wake you at the end of your window.

The Smart Alarm is available to Premium SleepWatch Members and can be activated by starting an Advanced Tracking session from the Apple Watch before going to bed*.

*Rooster not included


New! Smart Alarm Now Available with a SleepWatch Premium Membership