Is there any sound more wretched than that of an alarm clock in the morning? Although I’m not a violent person, I often have detailed revenge fantasies involving hurling my clock across the room and watching it shatter into a million tiny, hated pieces. When I move to turn it off, I stab at the buttons viciously, hoping to cause the device some actual pain. As far as I’m concerned, it’s payback.
The weird thing is that the alarm clock isn’t even usually that necessary, since I often wake up on my own, then look at the clock and see 6:29—one minute before my alarm was going to go off anyway. It’s almost as if my body’s internal clock were already set for the right time.
This phenomenon is actually pretty common—we all have an internal clock that regulates our sleep and wakefulness cycles, and with a little bit of practice, we can regulate it to keep us right on schedule, no bothersome alarms necessary.
Our internal clocks are ruled by our circadian rhythms, a twenty-four-hour cycle that helps the body sleep at night and stay awake during the day. Circadian rhythms come from the hypothalamus, a region deep in the brain that controls involuntary functions like body temperature, hunger and thirst, blood pressure, instinctual behavior, and reflexes. The most important stimuli that the brain receives are signals of light and dark, which cause the brain to produce chemicals that make us sleepy or keep us awake. The human body is hardwired to sleep at night and be awake during the day (which is why it’s so hard for nighttime workers to get a good night’s sleep).
But just because that’s what our bodies have evolved to do doesn’t always make it easy to rise and shine each and every morning. Some people have gotten very proficient at relying on their body’s clock to tell them when it’s time to wake up and go to sleep; in just a few days, anyone can regulate her own sleep schedule and get on track for an alarm clock–free lifestyle.
Step 1: Develop Good Sleep Habits
Your internal alarm clock will work properly only if you’re getting good, consistent, restorative sleep. In order to keep it in top shape, skip alcohol, caffeine, and exercise near bedtime, don’t do other activities (like reading or watching television) in bed, and don’t nap during the day. These bad habits can all contribute to intermittent or chronic insomnia.