Why we sleep and alarm clock experiments

Over the holidays, I listened to Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Mathew Walker as an audio book while driving.

If it wasn’t because what Mr. Walker sells is free (sleep), he would classify as a snake oil salesman. There is almost no limit to what natural sleep can do for your health: Improved learning, memory, immune system, and mental health. His writing style is a little bit too American-centric for my taste. Anyhow, if you can endure the chapters where he detailed and relentlessly puts the evidence on the table of the benefits of sleep, you eventually get to the chapter on the impact on sleep of modern lifestyle choices.

Lots of this boil down to common sense: do as your mother said, get a good night’s sleep, 8 hours, every night. Before an exam, after an exam, before a flu shot, after a flu shot, as a kid, as a teenager, as an adult, and in old age. Every day, all life.

Coffee, alcohol, and artificial light (such as from smartphones and tablets) are all stuff that messes with your sleep rhythm. Well known stuff. Worth reflecting over always.

Driving Stockholm – Berlin and back gave plenty opportunity to listen to audiobooks.

So after the long holiday without an alarm clock, I’m aiming to establish good routines to help us juggle the activities that makes up our working weeks. Getting to school and work on time, with proper clothing and homework done and with a mental state to meet the day’s expected and unexpected demands.

As a father and caregiver of two kids (aged four and seven currently), we are past the time where kids woke up several times during the night. While still enjoying the comfort of sleeping in our bed from time to time, we can establish good routines (sleep hygiene as Mr. Walker calls it) and expect long, sleep-full nights all four.

So, here is where my key takeaway from the book came: The impact of the alarm clock. Most of us wake up with the use of an alarm clock (or smart phone alarm). The alarm clock triggers a fight-or-run stress response which can save your life on short term but is bad for your health on the long term. Furthermore, most of us snooze, i.e. voluntarily expose us to the stress factor of the alarm clock multiple times each day.

In response to this, I decided to immediately do an experiment with my alarm clock:

1: I changed my alarm clock for 15 minutes later with a commitment to not snooze.

2: I changed the alarm from a buzz to play Edvard Grieg’s Morning Mood.

As I have grown older, I have noted in myself how I have changed from a night owl to a morning person. I now particularly enjoy the reflective moment between waking up and getting up, where the brain is fresh and rested and can plan and explore how to meet today’s challenges.

My immediate experience was that I woke up before the alarm clock, so I still got this moment of reflection.

However, we had failed to tuck in early the first two nights of the week, so mornings were still a rough ride. So yesterday I started the bedtime ritual early. My oldest was very fresh and rested today in the morning and was ready for school before I was. He said we should go to bed early every evening. Clearly a success!

So now I’m doing a new experiment: I’ve set an alarm clock to remind us when to go to bed. Wouldn’t it be great with an alarm to go to bed instead of an alarm to wake up? Let’s see how it works!