Alarm Clocks, More Harm than Good?

Back in college when I was on the baseball team, our winter practice schedule had us starting every weekday at 6am. We needed to be there about 15 minutes early to get dressed and warm-up though. And since the baseball gym was a 15-minute outdoor walk from my dorm, it required that I be awake even earlier. Plus, I preferred to shower and grab a bite to eat beforehand which left me waking up around 4:45am each day. This early start time was not something I looked forward to. My circadian rhythm has me naturally waking up around 6:30-7:00am everyday so these 4:45am mornings were not ideal. There was only one way I was getting up that early and making it to baseball on time. By using an alarm clock.

Now, I’ve used an alarm clock for nearly my entire life. Every school day, workday or early morning sporting event. If I needed to get up in the morning, an alarm clock was my answer. But have you ever noticed how much nicer it is to wake up naturally on a weekend compared to being jarred awake by noise? Have you ever noticed how much more energized and alive you feel on those mornings when you wake up before an alarm even sounds? Or when you don’t even need the snooze button? Well, in the past year I’ve decided to do some research on the effects of an alarm clock to see what this is doing to my sleep cycle and health. Here’s what I found:

The Jolt

The moment your alarm sounds off in the morning, your body jolts into action. Whether it’s a loud, annoying alarm or your favorite radio station, when you’re awoken by sound, your body releases adrenaline. This rush of adrenaline causes a temporary spike in heart rate and blood pressure which puts unnecessary stress on the heart. This rush of adrenaline also adds to daily stress levels which could be why you feel anxious or moody some mornings. All of this happens because humans were never meant to be awoken by sound unless there was an imminent danger. But in our controlled habitats, there is never an imminent danger around. This means that each morning we’re awoken by sound, our minds and body are jolting to action for very mundane reasons. All causing unnecessary physical and mental stress.

The Incomplete Sleep Cycle

On top of this jolt that occurs, being immediately woken from sleep causes another problem. Our mind/body goes through sleep cycles every night. We cycle from the REM Stage to the Light Stage, and the Light Stage to the Deep Stage. This cycle happens a few times throughout each night. In the first few cycles of sleep, we tend to stay in the Deep Sleep stages longer which aids in muscle growth and brain waste removal. In the latter cycles of sleep, we tend to stay in the REM stages longer which aids in memory consolidation, learning and problem solving. But when we’re awoken suddenly in the morning, our mind/body doesn’t complete its sleep cycles. What does this mean? It means we’re likely missing out on the latter stages of sleep which is primarily REM sleep. This means we’re not only cutting our sleep duration short, but we’re nearly halving one of our key sleep stages (REM). This isn’t sustainable for long term health.

The Unproductive Snoozing

Even after the jolt happens, and our REM sleep has been cut short, most of us tend to set multiple alarms or use the snooze button. What does another alarm do? It provides another jolt to the body. If one wasn’t enough, we subject our body to more adrenaline rushes in the morning to get us going. More unnecessary stress that isn’t healthy.

And what occurs between each morning alarm or snooze session? If you fall back asleep after hitting the snooze button, you restart your sleep cycles. The problem with this is it’s proven that the worst time to wake up, is at onset of sleep. So, by being awoken ten-fifteen minutes after falling back sleep, your waking yourself up at the worse time in your sleep cycle. This commonly causes what’s known as “sleep inertia” which is the drowsiness one can feel for hours after waking up. This drowsiness results in reduced mental and physical performance similar to sleep deprivation. So by trying to get more sleep with snoozing, you may end up feeling and performing as if you’ve slept significantly less.

The Solution

If you want to avoid the misery that an alarm clock causes, the solution is a strict sleep schedule with a proper duration of sleep. If you’re sleeping enough hours each night, you should be able to wake up feeling refreshed each morning naturally. And if you follow a strict sleep schedule of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (including weekends), then your need for an alarm in the morning will dissipate. Not only will you not need an alarm anymore, but you’ll also experience higher quality sleep from following a schedule like this.

Looking back, I probably could’ve gone through our winter baseball season without an alarm clock and felt a lot better. I would’ve needed to go to bed around 8:45pm to get my eight hours of sleep. I also would’ve needed to have this same schedule every day, including the weekends for it to work. Luckily, my early morning baseball sessions are no more. I can consistently go to bed at 10:30pm every night and wake up at 6:30am every day without an alarm clock. I’ve been doing this for over six months now and it feels great.

As a backup, if you do need an alarm clock to be sure you’re not going to miss an appointment, I recommend a light-based alarm. A light-based alarm will slowly turn on in the morning to simulate a sunrise. Since our eyes are very sensitive to light, they can sense when it’s getting brighter in the room around us. This then triggers chemical releases in the body which can slowly and properly bring us to an awoken state. This way, our body can complete its sleep stages and avoid the morning jolt, all while waking up in time for your morning appointment.

Final Thoughts

The jolt that occurs from waking up with an alarm clock causes unnecessary stress on the body. It also cuts our sleep cycles short and nearly halves our planned REM sleep stage. And, using multiple alarms or the snooze button each morning can result in drowsiness which is felt for hours after waking up. The wonderful thing is this troublesome alarm can be eliminated with an easy solution. First, we need to get enough sleep every night. For most people, this is around eight hours. Second, we need to setup a strict sleep schedule. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day including the weekends. This straightforward process will eliminate the need for an alarm clock and will have you feeling healthier and happier in no time.

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Hey, I am Brandon Zerbe

Welcome to myHealthSciences! My goal has always been to increase quality-of-life with healthy habits that are sustainable, efficient, and effective. I do this by covering topics like Fitness, Nutrition, Sleep, Cognitive Health, Financial Independence and Minimalism. You can read more about me here.


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4 Responses

  • Hi Brandon, great article on alarm clocks. I’ve never liked or used one. Usually around 9:00pm to bed and 5:00 am up and at it automatically. Gives me a great 16 hr day. Keep up the great newsletters.

  • Hi Brandon, great video by Matt. As I watched and listened to him, it made me smile remembering back to those years. In my mid 60’s now, however still not too late to put all of his messages to use. Thanks for showing that video. Be well my friend.

    • Thanks for following the weekly newsletter Doug! Yes, Matt is one of my favorite YouTubers to follow. He seems to have relatable and useful advice! You stay well too.

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