When you wake up to a loud alarm clock, your body releases cortisol — a reaction to the stress of being startled awake. Your heart beats faster and blood pressure rises, just like in a fight-or-flight response.
In a study published in Industrial Health, researchers found self-awakening at a specific time, decided before falling asleep, could prevent failures in blood circulation that leads to heart attacks.
But how do you wake yourself up without using the brash sounds emitted from an alarm clock? Try incorporating a few of the following tips into your lifestyle and you should find yourself waking up naturally:
Researchers from the American Sleep Disorders Association and Sleep Research Society studied the sleep cycles of 269 adults and discovered those who slept between those specific number of hours could wake up without their alarms.
To begin, Chris Brantner, certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo recommends starting at eight hours a night and then making adjustments from there.
Your internal clock knows its 24-hour routine. “Even if you were stuck in a room with no way of knowing the time, your body will be ready for bed and wake up at roughly the same each day, if you maintain a set sleep schedule,” says Dr. Sujay Kansagra.
Brantner notes that when setting a specific bedtime schedule, you probably will not fall asleep immediately. He recommends building a 15-minute buffer time to fall asleep once you get into bed.
According to Maggie Berghoff, NP, a functional medicine clinician who focuses on insomniac patients, you can set your own biological clock by doing the following: Step outside first thing in the morning when the sun rises, in mid-afternoon and during the two hours of sunset. “The sunset lightwaves will actually increase melatonin naturally for a restful night of sleep,” she says.
To do this, “exercise during the day so your body feels tired as nighttime nears, and avoid eating or looking at bright lights for at least a couple hours before bed,” says Benjamin Smarr, PhD, advisory board member of Reverie, an organization that produces sleep systems.
Although blackout screens help you fall asleep, they are counterproductive to waking up. “I would recommend implementing simple sheer curtains in your bedroom that will give you a bit of privacy, but also allow plenty of sun to enter the room each morning as well, as the light will naturally begin to wake you from your sleep,” says Bill Fish, certified sleep science coach and co-founder of tuck, an organization that provides resources on sleep. If you must use these types of dark screens, try putting them on a timer to rise early in the morning before you wake up.
If you work a night shift, your schedule obviously does not afford you the opportunity to wake up with the sunrise. In this case, Fish recommends using a daylight alarm clock. “The light turns on gradually and does not wake your body out of a deep sleep like most alarms do,” he says. This saves you from the “startled” reaction you are trying to avoid.
Dr. Kansagra recommends avoiding caffeine after noon to get a proper night’s rest. “Caffeine, even when consumed early in the morning, can make it hard to fall asleep and throw you off your sleep schedule,” he says.
Berghoff says you should try to eat dinner three hours prior to bedtime. If you eat right before bed, instead of relaxing, your body expends energy digesting food. This can lead to indigestion and even nightmares — all disrupting your sleep cycle.