There are two specific kinds of mornings. Some of them involve you coming to a sudden start from a deep slumber as soon as the alarm goes off loudly. In those situations, you groggily get ready for the day, wishing you could go back to bed. And then there are other mornings when you naturally wake up a few minutes before your alarm goes off. On those mornings, you start the day feeling well-rested and alert—the complete opposite of the first kind of morning.
What if you found out that you can actually train yourself to have a lot more mornings where you wake up without the jarring interruption of an alarm? The key is understanding how to use your body’s natural circadian rhythm to your benefit. Your circadian rhythm is what makes you feel alert or sleepy, depending on the time of day. When you let the rhythm wake you up naturally, you feel alert because you were ready to stop sleeping. When an alarm forces you to wake up before your body is ready, you feel groggy, as you may have interrupted a deep stage of sleep.
To stop using an alarm, you need to create a consistent rhythm from day to day. If you go to sleep around the same time every night and, before drifting off, tell yourself when you need to wake up in the morning, you can actually train your body to come to at the right time. But this won’t work if you’re exhausted. No amount of circadian rhythm training can help you if you are getting less sleep than you need.
First, figure out how much sleep you really need (hint: most people require seven to nine hours). Then count backwards from when you need to wake up to find out when, exactly, you should be asleep. If, for example, you should be going to sleep at 10:00pm, rather than 11:00pm, try moving back your bedtime gradually in 15-minute increments—10:45pm during the first week, 10:30pm during the second week, and 10:15pm during the third week. When you transition slowly, you give your body more time to adjust to the new schedule and it’ll be easier to nod off.
An hour before your new bedtime, start a bedtime ritual to get ready for sleep. Dim the lights, turn off electronics, and try to relax by taking a warm bath, reading, meditating, or stretching. It can also help to make sure to expose yourself to bright light in the morning. So if you do wake up a big groggy, open the shades first thing to start to get your body clock back on track. Also, just to be on the safe side, set an alarm anyway. After all, you don’t want the anxiety of worrying that you’ll oversleep to get in the way of dozing off.