Given that I cut the amount of sleep I need by 2 hours per day, you might expect that I have a loud alarm clock and a rigid sleep schedule without a social life. All of these could not be further from the truth.
Some days I go to a club and get home at 5am. I sleep soundly until 10:30am or so, wake up, and then have my nap around 5pm (thanks to circadian rhythms). My biphasic sleep schedule means that I recover from the night faster than my friends despite sleeping less. None of this messes with my schedule – the next day I’m ready to go workout and go to class at 7am despite not using an alarm clock. I’ve yet to miss a class or other appointment.
(above: a mid day nap in downtown Los Angeles)
1. No More Alarms
Not needing an alarm clock is a valuable asset in sleeping better.
When you wake up naturally you tend to do so at the highest point in your REM cycle, meaning that you feel more awake and alert.
As this article on weening off an alarm clock suggests, a consistent schedule in the beginning is very useful. However the first and most important part is to establish a good “internal clock.” I’d add the following essential tips:
- Perform “grounding exercises,” similar to those used for learning lucid dreaming. Just try to guess what time it is periodically through the day and then check your guess. You’ll notice you get better quite quickly.
- Before going to bed, make note of the current time, the amount of time you’d prefer to sleep, and the time you want to wake up. Use an alarm as a backup at first in case you miss your goal by more than a half hour or so.
- After waking up, compare your actual time to desired time.
- If possible, keep a sleep journal.
- When you wake up for the first time, get out of bed right away and start the day (unless it is far too early). If you trust your body when it says it is ready you will be more alert. If you lounge in bed (eg “trying to go back to bed”) I promise you will spend the day miserable and tired.
Note: don’t get hung up on the time on the clock or your results. The goal is to develop awareness, not anxiety.
Once you’re confident in your ability to wake up as needed, you can add in the additional variable of changing your sleep location. I’ve learned to sleep in public, next to active fire stations, with an open window facing a crowded street and much more. I’ve even taken an emergency cat-nap in the middle of a full-scale fraternity party. It will be uncomfortable at first and you certainly don’t desire these situations, but when they arise you will be able to sleep comfortably through them.
Now that your ability to maintain a good sleep schedule is location independent you can learn to shift when you sleep as needed. At first your training from #1 will kick in and you’ll wake up at your normal time regardless. Use the same tricks to determine when you want to wake up and train your body to sleep the appropriate amount of time.
Do not use an alarm clock in this phase. If you do, you will train your body to be reactionary rather than proactive.
Unfortunately, these are all skills which can be lost if not practiced. If I don’t go out for a few months and suddenly go to a bar, then return home at 5am I will often wake up at 7am regardless. Thankfully the skills, once learned, come back very quickly (usually after just two attempts or so).
Have you managed to get rid of your alarm clock? How did it go? Let me know your thoughts below!