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Brandon Peters, M.D.

30 Days to Better Sleep: Get Rid of the Alarm Clock

By January 27, 2013

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For as long as you can remember, it has been the first thing you look at in the morning: the alarm clock. It is a symbol of obligation, intrusion of responsibility, and a marker of the modern working life. One of the highlights of retirement may be finally getting rid of it. What if you could hit the snooze for good? How is an alarm clock affecting your ability to sleep and wake feeling rested? Consider whether it may be time to get rid of the alarm clock.

What does it mean to use an alarm clock? At its foundation, the implication is that you need to wake up at a certain time, probably before you would naturally wake on your own, and that you wouldn't without a prompting. If you trusted that you would wake up with time to spare, you wouldn't set an alarm. Instead, if left to its own devices your body is likely to keep sleeping, making you late for work or other obligations. Therefore, by waking with an alarm, you are shortening your total sleep time.

The consequence of waking with an alarm is sleep deprivation. If you had your fill of sleep, you would be waking before your alarm even goes off. Instead, you are trying to continue sleeping when the alarm prompts you to arise with a buzz, blare, or musical interlude. How much longer would you have slept? You might get a glimpse of the answer by how many times you hit the snooze button. Better still would be the days that you turn it off completely or don't turn it on to begin with, such as a weekend on which you can sleep in. Initially, this extra sleep will pay off the accumulated sleep debt, and then you will approach your average sleep needs.

If you determine that you need 8 hours of sleep each night, why not allow yourself this time in bed? It is a matter of simple math to figure out when you should go to bed and when you will naturally wake up on your own. If you wish to wake at 6 AM, then a bedtime at 10 PM would let you get enough sleep without fear of oversleeping. This assumes, of course, that you will spend most of this block of time sleeping. If you suffer from insomnia or a circadian rhythm disorder, especially delayed sleep phase syndrome, you might need to correct this problem first before setting the alarm clock aside.

If you are interested in eliminating the alarm clock, it is also imperative to keep a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends. Your body will reward this regular pattern of sleep by waking you up at the right time. Prior to unplugging the alarm clock and trusting your ability to wake on time on your own, you should probably ease yourself into the new arrangement. Keep a very regular schedule for several weeks, getting a sufficient amount of sleep, and then set the alarm clock to a later time, a point at which you absolutely must get up -- or be late. You might also let your employer know that you are making this transition, in case you need a little extra forgiveness for tardiness. Then you can gradually phase out the alarm clock completely.

With a little planning and persistence, you can obtain the sleep that you need and get rid of the alarm clock for good. What could be better than that?

Check out the entire series, "How to Sleep Better in 30 Days."

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