Can a Wake-Up Light Help You Stop Hitting Snooze?

Can a Wake-Up Light Help You Stop Hitting Snooze?
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The snooze button. Most of us mortals have a love-hate relationship with it. Love because it enables us to be our true selves--lazy little shits who don’t want to go to work in the morning. Hate because snoozing ends up doing us more harm than good. How’s that, you ask?

The Problem with Snoozing

First, those extra fifteen minutes of sleep in the morning happen when your sleep cycle is at its lightest, right after you’ve woken up. So those extra fifteen minutes are much less restful than an extra fifteen minutes of deep sleep would be. And you could've enjoyed the latter by simply going to bed fifteen minutes earlier the night before. Tips on how to do that can be found in previous blog posts, here and here.

Speaking of sleep cycles, when you wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle, as opposed to the end of your sleep cycle, it trips up your circadian rhythms. Since the average sleep cycle lasts 90 minutes, you’ll most likely be waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle when you awaken from your morning snoozefest. Unless you have no actual responsibilities in life and can snooze for a full 90 minutes in the morning. In that case, you win at life and you probably don’t need this blog to help you become healthier and happier. 

Additionally, when your alarm clock goes off a second (or eighth) time, your brain and body are taken by surprise, which can result in sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is that feeling of grogginess you have after being suddenly awakened, and it prevents us from fully waking up. Sleep inertia is accompanied by a decline in your motor skills, alertness, and reaction time, and can last for a period of two or more hours. So, if you get in a car accident on your morning commute, the first question the insurance company should be asking is, “Did you hit snooze this morning?” This would make determining auto accident liability much easier.

Finally, getting up at different times of the day throws your sleep cycle off its natural rhythm, further exacerbating your sleeping problems.

My Snoozing Habits

When it comes to snoozing, I’m a middle-of-the-road offender. Depending on what’s going on in my life, I may not hit the snooze button at all. For instance, if I’ve been on a consistent morning exercise routine for at least a week and my diet has been relatively healthy, getting out of bed is easy as pie (not as delicious though). But if I’m in one of my lazy funks--those periods in my life where I lay out my exercise clothes the night before, knowing full well that I will be doing absolutely zero exercise the following morning--I may hit snooze two or three times and wake up 45 minutes later than intended. Just thinking about that makes me tired.

Hitting snooze makes us feel not only tired, but also annoyed and grumpy. The primary reason underlying our decision to hit snooze is that we simply don’t want to get out of bed and start the day. And not wanting to start the day is often served with a side of bad attitude and RBF. I know that when I hit snooze and don’t drag my ass out of bed until 7:30 a.m., I am annoyed on multiple levels: annoyed that I slept in, annoyed that I can’t sleep in even more, annoyed that I’m groggy, and annoyed that I don’t have time to enjoy my luxurious morning routine (meditation, journaling, exercising or stretching, listening to a podcast, drinking tea, spending time with Max, and preparing and enjoying a beautiful breakfast).

In an effort to get better sleep and to be annoyed less often, I started thinking of ways to ditch my on-and-off snoozing habit. My first thought was to sleep with my curtains open at night. That way I could awaken naturally, with a ray of sunshine beaming through my window and resting perfectly on my angelic face. As delightful as it sounded, this idea ended up having several flaws. First, during the winter months, the sun doesn’t rise until after my ideal wake-up time, rendering this technique useless. Second, we live in a ground floor apartment, so our bedroom doesn’t get much sunlight until 9 a.m. And most importantly, Max is vehemently opposed to having any amount of light, natural or artificial, in the bedroom, so sleeping with the curtains open was literally a relationship deal breaker. In his defense, sleeping in complete darkness does seem to improve our sleep quality, but it means that the angelic image I have of myself will never become a reality. Le sigh.

To ditch the snoozing, I also tried plugging in my alarm clock (iPhone) at the opposite end of our bedroom, so that I would have to physically get out of bed to turn off the alarm. Once out of bed, I imagined, I’d be much less likely to crawl back into bed. But I imagined it wrong. It was, in fact, very easy to just jump back into bed, particularly when our apartment was cold and dark and the bed was warm and cuddly.

The Philips Wake-up Light

Finally, I decided to take the Mastercard route. We splurged and purchased a Philips Wake-Up Light to replace our alarm clocks (iPhones). A wake-up light is a lamp that simulates sunrise in order to gradually and peacefully awaken your body. Thirty minutes before you set the alarm clock function, the lamp first turns on, starting out at a very dim glow. As the minutes go by, the light eventually mimics full-on daytime light, at which time your alarm clock music (or birds chirping) goes off.

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Because I am a teacher’s pet, I ran some tests the night before I started using the wake-up light. According to my tests, by minute 15 out of the 30 minutes, the light seemed bright enough to awaken a light sleeper like myself, and at the 30 minute mark, the light was almost blinding. Since my preferred wake-up time is around 6:30 a.m., I set my alarm to begin at 6:15 a.m. and culminate at 6:45 a.m.

On the first morning, around 6:20 a.m., my eyes were met with a very soft, hazy light emanating from the lamp. The light was mellow and unintrusive--unlike an alarm clock--so I turned my back to the lamp and nuzzled my tiny head into Max’s armpit to continue resting. Within 10 mintues, the light was bright enough to awaken me and my body felt ready to climb out of bed. Mornings 2 and 3 were also a piece of cake, and I eagerly whisked myself out of bed around 6:25 a.m. to attend to the morning’s activities.

Morning Number 4 with the wakeup light was pretty challenging, I must admit. When the lamp went off, my stomach was grumbling from having eaten too much sugar the night before, and all I wanted to do was sleep off my sugar hangover. I began darting my eyes in the direction of the lamp, willing her to shut off. She did not. So I scuttled off the bed and turned off the bright lamp. And then I went back to bed.

Does that mean the wakeup light failed? Not quite. While I did go back to sleep on Day 4, it was only for 10 minutes, and it was the only day this week I did that. The lamp woke me up enough to the point where I was conscious that I wasn’t actually tired for more sleep--I simply wanted to continue snuggling with my comforter while nursing my tummyache.

I assumed the wake-up light would be a nuisance on the weekend, but I was so wrong. As soon as the lamp went off on Saturday morning, I couldn’t wait to leap out of bed. Why? Because it’s the freakin’ weekend. The lamp was my signal to get up and make the most out of my weekend.  

By the end of this week, I was very satisfied with our Philips wake-up light. No, it’s not the same as waking up to a beautiful sunrise, and yes, it looks like a UFO radar, but it did make it much easier to drag my rump out bed in the morning. This lamp would be particularly useful during the winter months, when it’s dark and gloomy and all you want to do is hibernate in your bed with a stash of snacks.

So if you have a rocky relationship with your snooze button and waking up to natural light is not an option for you, I’d highly recommend you invest in a wake-up light. There are various models made by Philips, so you can pick the one that best fits your budget. Or peep the deets for alternatives to the Philips wake-up light at Apartment Therapy.

Get a Better Night of Sleep: Recap

I’ve learned a lot about how to improve my sleep practice over the last month, and I hope you have too! To wrap it up, here are my tips (so far) for developing and maintaining a good sleep habit.

  • Ditch the screens: reduce exposure to electronic screens at least an hour before bed, or if that’s not feasible, buy a pair of orange-tinted glasses to block the blue light from screens. If orange glasses aren’t your thing, download f.lux for your computer and use the night mode on your iPhone to block out blue lights.
  • Write it down: spend a few minutes jotting down things that are bothering you, edit items on your to-do list, or journal about your day. The goal is to get things out of your mind and onto paper, so you feel restful and stress-free at bedtime.
  • Set a bedtime: set a bedtime--and a bedtime alarm clock if necessary--so that you’ll be able to enjoy 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
  • Ditch the snooze: Break up with your snoozing habit by investing in a wake-up light or leaving your curtains open.

Next week I'll be turning my attention to the topic of Gratitude. Stay tuned for how being grateful can make you feel instantly happier.

Sweet dreams,

Nisha