We Are Our Best Alarm Clocks


Your sleep-wake cycle is regulated by a protein called PER. The protein level rises and falls each day, peaking in the evening and plummeting at night. When PER levels are low, your blood pressure drops, heart rate slows, and thinking becomes foggier. You get sleepy.

If you follow a diligent sleep routine—waking up the same time every day—your body learns to increase your PER levels in time for your alarm. About an hour before you’re supposed to wake up, PER levels rise (along with your body temperature and blood pressure). To prepare for the stress of waking, your body releases a cocktail of stress hormones, like cortisol. Gradually, your sleep becomes lighter and lighter.

And that’s why you wake up before your alarm. Your body hates your alarm clock. It’s jarring. It’s stressful. And it ruins all that hard work. It defeats the purpose of gradually waking up.

Mental Floss answers the question of why some of us frequently wake up five minutes before our alarm clock goes off, and that answer is basically that our body’s internal clock is made of magic (and proteins and hormones). Having a sleep routine helps with this, which means going to bed at a different hour each day will still make it hard for you to wake up before your alarm so you can get out of bed and go to work, or whatever it is you want to wake up for in the morning (i.e. exercise, children). My problem is that when my internal clock wakes me up and I see I have five minutes before my alarm will go off, I think “Yes! I have five more minutes of sleep.” So I go back to sleep. And then my alarm goes off five minutes later and it’s not pleasant.

Photo: Rob and Stephanie Levy

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10 Comments / Post A Comment

Kthompson (#1,858)

When I was in school I used to wake right before my alarm, but not anymore. Now it jars me awake every time, and I hit snooze repeatedly (yes I know I’m not supposed to do that). I usually go to bed around the same time each night, but I do sleep in on the weekends. Waking gradually and naturally on Saturday is always a pleasure, but ugh, five days a week, it’s a battle to get up.

I guess my body would be better regulated if I woke up early on the weekends as well. But you’ll never take that Saturday-sleep-in away from me.

aproprose (#1,832)

Ahhh, I’m a habitual snoozer. It’s so terrible and I hate it.
I tried buying one of those natural sunlight alarm clocks that wakes you up gently with a sunrise and birds chirping. It was amazing because it really worked but I would still just hit snooze again!
I’ve also tried the Sleep Cycle app which is similarly awesome. Still a snoozer.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

There is no ritual more sacred than the seven times I hit the snooze button every morning.

andnowlights (#2,902)

This morning was the first time in ages that I’ve been woken up by my alarm clock in forever. It was awful. I normally wake up 15 minutes before (and also several times during the night) and it’s nice to just… sit for a minute.

Elyse (#5,328)

I often wake up at 7:30, about half an hour before my first alarm goes off (hahahaha there are 3! Three alarms!). I don’t feel tired anymore then but just KNOWING that I can keep sleeping forces me back into it.

Liz the Lemur (#3,125)

I definitely had to break the habit of hitting snooze 10 times when I started consistently sharing my bed every night. (Now I only hit snooze twice.) And I had to give up falling asleep to podcasts. Worth it though.

No matter how consistent I try to keep my sleep cycles (even on weekends, much to my partner’s chagrin), not snooze, etc etc my body re.fuses. to contemplate a circadian rhythm that remotely matches the rest of humanity. My body wants to sleep from 12-9, and it’s going to, civil society requirements be damned.

Mornings are difficult, to say the least :/

Stina (#686)

Ah just wait till your 40′s when sleeping in is just as tempting but your bounce back time from doing so is even longer.

One solution: Get cats and feed them immediately after you wake up. Believe you me. They get attuned to that time and when it comes around they take turns poking me in the face, poking me with the cold, moist kitty nose, and if they get really frustrated with me, climb up on the bookcase, reach over with their paw and tip the picture frame above my head creating a scraping noise and causing me to sit up for fear of a picture falling on me.

allreb (#502)

I seem to be someone who needs a suuuuuper long period of time to wake up. Back in high school, I’d set my alarm 45 minutes before I needed to actually get up and hit snooze 5 times so I could gradually attain consciousness. As an adult with a much more regulated sleep schedule, I’m down to once (and I usually wake very slightly, before that first alarm, and then again right before the snooze alarm). And then I just wander around like a zombie for the first 90 minutes I’m awake.

I sometimes think if I could force myself to be an early riser who can achieve wakefulness early, I could rule the world. I don’t have to be in my office until 10, my commute is 30-45 minutes, and if I could get up at 6 or 7 I could probably make it to a yoga class! Or go for a run! (If I was someone who went for runs, which I’m not.) Or write a few pages of a novel! Or at least cook breakfast. But that will never, ever, ever happen, because even though I can adjust to getting out of bed at 8, I can not actually force myself to be alert. :-/

klemay (#1,755)

I’m pretty sure that my body just likes to sabotage me. On weekend mornings or on days off, I’m awake and ready to go at 8am (even if I went out the night before). On weekdays, no matter how well-behaved I am the night before, I have to pry myself out of bed at 8 to get to work.

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