Thursday, January 29, 2015

Waking Up Before I Go-Go

I’ve been experimenting with waking up without an alarm clock for two weeks now. Well, almost. Technically, I’ve set the alarm clock to the last possible moment that I could afford to sleep in without dire consequences (e.g., getting to work late, missing morning appointments) as a safety net in case I pull a Rip Van Winkle in the mornings. The results so far have surprised and impressed me so far.

Except for one morning, I managed to wake up anywhere between 60 to 15 minutes before the safety net alarm rang. I woke up feeling energetic, optimistic, and excited about upcoming day’s adventures. These findings were pleasantly unexpected, and I feel committed to making the new habit stick.

For over three decades, I’ve followed a routine of setting my alarm clock to ring at a target time of when I think I should be waking up, which is usually very optimistic. Each morning would inevitably result in epic battle of will between myself and the two-headed monster of alarm and snooze button. At 6:15, the alarm rings, and I surrender to the snooze. At 6:25, the siren call of the alarm reprises, and I choose to snooze again. The tug-of-war continues until 6:45 or 6:55, when I give in to the unforgiving ten minute snooze interval and drag my tired ass out of bed. Either way I’ve wasted up to 40 minutes of quality sleep, or 40 minutes of productive morning time.

The alarm-less experiment made me aware that both quantity and quality are important for my sleeping habits. I noticed that with improved quality of sleep, I feel more energy to feed my weekday work and weekend activities. For the longest time, I thought that I needed 7.5 hours of sleep each night, but I didn’t factor in the quality part of the sleep equation. It didn’t help that I often went to bed with huge fear of not waking up in time—the added stress of waking up in the morning probably lowered my enjoyment of sleep.

Also adding rituals to my alarm-less experiment has made the sleep experiment more successful. I generally try to prepare for the upcoming day the evening before, with clothes laid out and set aside, coffee maker prepared for the morning, and my bags nearly packed. Less things to do in the morning means less frantic chaos. I try to be in bed by a certain time and fall asleep while reading a book or magazine. And in the morning, I take ten deep breaths before getting out of bed, and make my bed immediately. I make an effort to listen to a thought-provoking podcast and watch a TED video as part of the routine.

I have no deep knowledge of the body’s response to the circadian rhythm; I’m no chronobiologist. But I’m encouraged by a growing array of articles and talks on human energy management and productivity which make strong case for valuing quality sleep. Gretchen Rubin’s TEDx talk correlates sleep with increased happiness. Diligent sleep habits are characteristics of many successful people, according to a recent Inc. article, "Sleep Deprivation is a Productivity Killer.”

The idea of waking up without an alarm clock seems to be counterintuitive to my goals to be more active and quest-focused on weekends. How can I take advantage of my weekend mornings if I don’t set alarms? I’m banking on a theory that by becoming in tune with my circadian rhythm, I won’t fall to the decades-long pitfall of indulging in binge sleeping over the weekends—a decades-long pigeon of discontent which motivated me to plan adventures for every weekend this year. There will be situations where I’ll resort to using an alarm (e.g., rising early to catch a morning flight, managing sleep while traveling, and ensuring that I wake up very early for those running or cycling events which begin at butt-crack of dawn), but I expect those moments to be rare.

Perhaps waking up alarm-less in the morning is the keystone habit that I’ve been searching for. Only time will tell.

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