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What Alarm to Use in the Morning, and Why

posted Nov 11, 2014, 1:43 PM by Ivan Kropyvnytskyy   [ updated Nov 23, 2014, 7:10 AM ]
How do you wake up in the morning? Do you think it matters?

Picture this. You open many different programs on your computer, including some unsaved work in your word processor and excel charts. The computer is busy doing many different tasks: moving information, cleaning space, copying the files, reorganising them, writing logs, installing important updates from the web, connecting to different web services... and suddenly you abruptly turn off the power! Have this ever happened to you? How long did it take to restore everything? If you are like most of us, you probably felt some frustration because of the accident. Now, imagine doing this daily. How well do you think your computer will function after that?

REM cycles in our sleep normally occur every night (pictured blue in the graph below). REM cycles are our brain's maintenance time. In REM our brain organises the information, reshuffles memories, and generally speaking organises and clears our mind. Now imagine a loud alarm going off in the middle of a REM sleep cycle. As you can see, most of REM sleep occurs in the morning so there is a high chance the alarm will hit right in the middle of it. It's similar to abruptly shutting down a computer. If we suddenly wake up before this process is completed, we may feel disoriented, foggy and our memory and concentration for the day can be poor, and we will not know why. If this is repeated daily, chances are our brain will not be as sharp and clear as we would like it to be.

What's the solution? Don't go to work and sleep as long as you want without using an alarm. If you are not that lucky, using an alarm clock with very gentle and slow fade in sound, particularly one that is combined with a light therapy device (like this one in this picture below). This can help you to wake up more naturally. After completing a REM cycle and while transitioning from REM to Non-REM sleep, you will hear the alarm sound and gently wake up.

If you do not have a sophisticated alarm, don't worry, you just can be creative. I personally use a very old Litebook plugged into a little timer device. I set the timer to turn on the Litebook 15 minutes before my desired wakeup time. I do not use any sound device to wake me up, the light itself is usually enough. Just in case, I set my radio alarm 15 minutes after my desired wake up time, and I am typically awake before it goes off. I have noticed that since using this way of waking up my memory and concentration became even better than before. So, this is just one more little trick for you to try and I hope it will help you as well. If you wish, you can discuss your thoughts about this, for example here on Facebook.