Is Your Alarm Clock Killing You?

Sleep makes you feel better, but its importance goes way beyond just boosting your mood or banishing under-eye circles.

Sleep makes you feel better, but its importance goes way beyond just boosting your mood or banishing under-eye circles.
Sleep makes you feel better, but its importance goes way beyond just boosting your mood or banishing under-eye circles.

“On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested.” Genesis 2:2

And then the LORD set his alarm so that he could wake up bright and early the next day…?

Wait. What? There weren’t alarm clocks? Oh, that’s what the sun was for. (I know, I know. God doesn’t need sleep. It’s a joke, folks.)

But humans do need sleep. Most of us probably need alarm clocks, too. Or at least we think we do. But it hasn’t always been that way.

Even after they left the perfection of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were dependent upon the sun to wake them in the morning. And up until just recently (a century or so), humans have been waking up based upon their own internal alarm clocks.

It’s only natural. 

Scientists today call it circadian rhythm. God created circadian rhythms and sleep cycles to help us maintain the balance of work and rest. But in our modern age of industry and technology, we’ve developed the ability to stay up late into the night and use alarm clocks to awaken us in the morning.

Progress, right?

Well, maybe not. Sleep cycles allow our bodies to flow in and out of deeper or lighter stages of sleep with the proper transitions. When we wake naturally, it develops as a slow dawning into consciousness. A gentle, peaceful awareness of a new day.

By contrast, the physiological responses to sleep being rudely interrupted by an alarm clock are staggering. And they might even be shortening your life!

Here’s what some of the smart, science people have to say: 

Waking Up Abruptly is Bad for Your Heart. One study by the National Institute of Industrial Health in Japan showed that waking up to a loud noise or jolting experience can be unhealthy for your heart. A sudden start from sleep causes a fight-or-flight response, increasing the blood pressure and heart rate. That’s bad. 

Sleep Cycle Interruptions Can Cause Mental Impairment. Your sleep delivers itself in 90-minute cycles. Waking up in the middle of a cycle can derail your sleep benefits. A study published by the American Medical Journal revealed that people who were awoken during the deepest sleep cycles exhibited memory loss, impaired mental processes, and clumsiness—similar to being drunk. It doesn’t last all day, but it’s not a happy feeling.

Alarm Clocks Start the Day with Stress. More than simply a moment of irritation, the stress of waking up to an alarm clock can impact the way you feel mentally and physically throughout the day. When you wake up with a jolt, adrenaline and cortisol hormones are released, causing the body and mind to panic and go into overdrive. Your day begins with stress and it snowballs from there.

Alarm Clocks Can Make You Fat. The use of an alarm clock means that you’re probably sleep deprived. Studies at the University of Munich and Harvard have shown that for every hour a person is sleep deprived, they are 33% more likely to be obese. Yikes!

So that’s the science bit. Now for some of my own experience and practical application…..

Recently I’ve been in a stage of life in which I, more often than not, wake up on my own in the morning. I work from home and my teenage children study from home, so I typically don’t need to set an alarm. I wake up naturally when my body is ready. And I feel better than I have for many years, less affected by my chronic pain condition, and much more energetic.

Of course, not everyone can work from home or has capable children. I remember waking up in the night when my kids were little and then depending on my alarm to peel me out of bed in the morning. Certain seasons of life don’t lend themselves well to healthy sleep patterns.

On the other hand, rather than just shrugging shoulders as if there’s nothing that can be done, it may be worth thinking about small lifestyle changes that would allow you to be kinder to yourself. To get back to more natural sleep patterns.

Because it seems that God designed our bodies to wake up naturally. It might sound like a luxury, but maybe it’s more of a forgotten necessity. Maybe it’s part of living a healthy lifestyle and caring for this temple that is your body. (1 Cor 6:19)

Maybe it could change everything!

So What To Do Now?

If you aren’t ready to throw your alarm out quite yet, consider easing into it with these options for your morning experience:

Use a Nicer Alarm Clock.  Instead of using a clock that jars you awake, consider one that lights up gradually like the sun. Or, certain smartphone apps can measure your sleep rhythms and wake you gently at the ideal time in your sleep cycle.

Change Your Bedroom. Moving your bed around and cracking the curtains so that more light shines on your bed in the morning may be a helpful way to awaken gradually.

Healthy Sleep Hygiene. Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning has a significant impact on setting your circadian rhythms. Start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until you find your sweet spot and wake up before your alarm even goes off. 

Set Your Internal Clock. Most everyone has one. I didn’t really believe it until I used my own. But if you tell yourself just before falling asleep that you want to wake up at 6:30, then you most likely will. Set your alarm for a bit later just as a backup, but you likely won’t need it. Your brain is cooler than you probably give it credit for. Give it a try!

Written by Julie Workman

Julie Workman enjoys knitting, whitewater rafting, and drinking coffee—usually not all at the same time. She, her husband and their four teenagers are part of a movement of God’s people who are reaching Europe to impact the world.

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