Waking up without an alarm: 7+ years of living the dream

599px-Flaming_June,_by_Fredrick_Lord_Leighton_(1830-1896).jpg Image: “Flaming June” by Lord Frederic Leighton (1895). via Wikimedia Commons

Since everyone is reporting on their long-term self-experimentation this week*, I thought I’d share my own major breakthrough. I strongly believe that waking yourself up with alarms is extremely bad for your health, creativity and productiveness.

I’m coming up on the 8th anniversary of my decision to eschew alarm clocks. It started when I noticed that I often awoke before my alarm went off anyway. After reading an article about ten years ago in Nature on timing the end of nocturnal sleep (PMID: 9892349), I gave alarms up in 2003 and have not looked back. I decided to try working without a net, and after some trial and error, I found what works for me. I have never overslept (a problematic word, IMHO) or missed anything important. Details after the break.

Here are the basics:

  1. • I have no clock in my bedroom.
  2. • I do not keep a watch or phone in my bedroom.
  3. • I do not have a TV or computer in my
  4. • I use a very heavy window
    curtain so I can’t tell what time it is.

Here is what I have found:

  1. • It
    forces me to get the kind of good night’s sleep championed by
    and Arianna
  2. • I go to bed
    sooner, especially if I have something important the next
  3. • I remember my dreams more
  4. • I feel much sharper in the
    mornings than I used to.
  5. • I do not need
    caffeine to wake up (though I do drink energy drinks throughout
    the day)
  6. • My skin looks better,
    especially around and under my eyes.

A few caveats that might affect your own results:

  1. • The biggest leap of faith was not
    setting an alarm before a morning flight. To this day, I still
    often stay up until my flight, then sleep on the
  2. • I have never had any problems
    with insomnia, and I sleep pretty heavily.
  3. • I do use my phone’s audible reminder feature
    throughout the day when I have a call or other
  4. • I do occasionally get a
    feline wakeup call, similar to the one shown
    . These are on no discernible

A few friends who couldn’t
make the no-alarm thing work switched to those sunrise alarms
and were pleased. I tried one out a few times when I was
housesitting. One friend’s had little bird sounds in addition
to a gradually brightening light. Looking online it was
probably a Good
Morning Sunrise Wake-up Light Alarm Clock with Nature
. She
swore by it, and it was certainly not as traumatic as a beep,
buzz, or heaven help us, a morning radio DJ.

I still
occasionally put on this Liquid
Mind: Sleep
album I mentioned last
year, which is very relaxing to me. Brian Eno’s ambient stuff
would probably do the trick, too. If you have a week where you
can go to bed early, I recommend giving it a shot. The main
thing is not to worry about waking up. That will let you
complete your sleep cycle and leave you feeling a lot less
stressed. It’s like being on vacation all the time – no alarms!

* BTW, I never use bar soap, but unlike
and Mark,
I smell like a nerdy hippie chick. A little gamey, but not