How can I set my mental alarm clock?
July 15, 2005 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Some people have a "mental alarm clock". They can tell themselves to wake up at a certain hour, and their eyes spring open right on schedule. How can I do this, and how does it work? I've tried it on many occasions, but it only works about 30% of the time. Bonus candy for anyone who can tell me how to actually get up when my mental alarm goes off, instead of just rolling over and going back to sleep.
posted by rwhe to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The body's alarm clock.
posted by ericb at 10:50 AM on July 15, 2005

"The mental alarm clock. Basically the idea is that before you go to sleep you visualise the current time on a clock, and then move the hands to when you need to wake up. Then you go to sleep. At the right time you will wake up; even if you've moved the clock into another room, and have no way to check the time during the night. I tried it, it worked. Way-cool."
posted by ericb at 10:53 AM on July 15, 2005

I wouldn't call what I do a technique, but I hate beyond all reason the sound of an alarm - any alarm. So although I set the alarm, I generally wake up spontaneously 5-10 minutes in advance and relish the fact I get to turn the wretched thing off. It generally takes a little more consciousness to turn an alarm off vs. just hitting the snooze. Maybe that's why it works as not just a wake up but a get up method.
posted by garbo at 10:53 AM on July 15, 2005

Well, reading between the lines of your questions, I see that you want to get up a certain time but be refreshed when you do. There's a watch with a sensor on the back, that claims to do just this. And reviewers at the gizmo sites have agreed that it DOES actually work pretty well. Sleeptracker. So it's worth a look. If you're cool with a $150 watch solution.

It measures your sleep cycle and you pick a range where the end of the range is the latest the watch can wake you up. Then, in the range when you're at the very top (most awake) in your sleep cycle, it wakes you. Or if you don't have a period of wakefulness, it wakes you at the end, no harm no foul.
posted by zpousman at 11:00 AM on July 15, 2005

I do this. Lord knows how. I just think about getting up at that time when I go to sleep and the next morning it happens. I never set an alarm anymore unless I have something really important to do like catch a plane. Mostly this involves deciding whether I am getting up early to exercise (5:30), regular time (6:15) or late (after 7). These times are all pretty close. I don't think it would work with a time like 4:00.
posted by caddis at 11:04 AM on July 15, 2005

I developed this ability when I joined the swim team in high school. I think the combination of having to get up at an unnatural time (4:45 am) to do something that (initially) made me nervous unlocked something in my brain. 9 times out of ten I now anticipate my alarm clock by 4-6 minutes, no matter what time it's set for.
posted by saladin at 11:09 AM on July 15, 2005

I just wake up in a nervous panic about every ten minutes, repeat until it's time to get up. :)
posted by trevyn at 11:18 AM on July 15, 2005

Im similar to caddis, I just think about the time I need to wake up. Also when I go to sleep and need to wake myself without an alarm clock I just think about my rest as a nap. I dont know, maybe this subconsciously blocks REM sleep. Mind you I dont do this on a regular basis, only when I dont have access to an alarm clock.
posted by pwally at 11:29 AM on July 15, 2005

I can do this, but like caddis, "lord knows how." One thing I do which might help you: The last thing I do before I go to bed is to try and clear my mind a bit, think about what time it is now, about what time I want to wake up, and how much time I can sleep. (Example: It's 10:30pm, I want to take up at 6:00am, and I can sleep for 7.5 hours.) This seems to help a bit...
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:30 AM on July 15, 2005

You can always do it the lazy way... Drink a large glass of water before you go to bed and you'll be certain to be up in about 6 hours.

Myself, I usually am able to antipicate the time to wake up as well... sadly I anticipate it 40 minutes early lately (grumble about being tired insterted here).
posted by shepd at 11:37 AM on July 15, 2005

I have done this before, but only accidentally. It helps to have other time cues around - like windows and outside noises and such. I wouldn't be surprised if it had something to do with the amount of light in the room, as your body's clocks rely mostly on light, anyway.
posted by muddgirl at 11:38 AM on July 15, 2005

I know how long I sleep and if I go to bed that length ahead of when I want to wake up, I do. If you are getting adequate rest, you don't need an alarm clock.
posted by mischief at 11:44 AM on July 15, 2005

To add to what mischief said, in my experience, it doesn't work if I'm trying to short myself on sleep. If I'm trying to drag myself out of bed after 3 hours sleep, for instance, I need the alarm (and even then, it's a feat to get going).
posted by raedyn at 11:58 AM on July 15, 2005

Everyone I know (myself included, and I'm NOT a morning person!) gets to this state simply by having their alarm clock set to the same time every morning. After a few weeks, you start to wake up withing a few minutes (or even seconds) of that time, regardless of whether the alarm clock is still there.

It's not something you can "set" differently for each morning, it's simply that waking up at exactly the same time 5 days a week cues your body clock very very accurately after a while.

As to getting up once you've woken up, you're on your own :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:05 PM on July 15, 2005

If I think about a time before I go to bed I'll usually wake up about ten minutes before that time, regardless of what time I was thinking. It could be an hour after I go to bed, or 6. I've always had this and I'm not quite sure it can be learned. If I focus to hard and get tense about waking up at a certain time I start waking up every half hour or so trevyn. I have to say, I always use an alarm anyway, often because I get to nervous about waking up on time and don't trust myself, thus triggering the wake up ever 30 minutes thing.

This might be related, I always know what time it is, usually within five minutes, even if I get up after a nap.
posted by cyphill at 12:28 PM on July 15, 2005

I'd agree with -harlequin-. I'm very much not a morning person - left to my own devices, I'd be waking up after noon every day, and heading to sleep a little before dawn, or maybe a little after. However, there've been some several-month stretches in the past year where I simply had to be somewhere at 9. After I got my sleep schedule shifted to approximately the right time [and after I started to be able to fall asleep at the right time], I started waking up a little in advance of my alarm clock. I think it was just habit and a consistent sleep-schedule that did it.

I think it had as much to do with going to sleep at a regular time as waking up, though. If I stayed up too late, I failed to wake myself up [or perhaps woke up and turned off the alarm or something as I normally do.] When you wake up and you're not tired, you won't fall asleep even if you do turn off the alarm and roll over. Whether you actually get up and get going is rather a different matter...
posted by ubersturm at 12:37 PM on July 15, 2005

My ex could do this, and I have never been able to. However, I can often wake up before my alarm if I know I have to be up abnormally early - there's just no telling how much before.

I think a major part of it is that you have to have an excellent sense of time. Everyone I know that's capable of this usually knows what time it is without looking at a watch, etc. I have no sense of time and cannot, no matter how hard I try. Just a precaution.
posted by honeydew at 12:54 PM on July 15, 2005

As others have alluded, I think one of the important factors is getting enough sleep for your body. For me, that's about eight hours. I will typically wake up right at the 8 hour mark. I can also do this for naps though, and like others I think about what time I need to be up by and my eyes pop open at the right time. I can still wake up by myself if it's less than eight hours but it's harder. I have also found that if I'm not relying on an alarm clock, I don't sleep as well. There's something about it that takes up more conscious brain energy so if I want to fall into a deep sleep I'll set the alarm clock.

As for not rolling over and going back to sleep, it's all will power, baby.
posted by Kimberly at 1:40 PM on July 15, 2005

I dont know, maybe this subconsciously blocks REM sleep.

If this was true, you'd never feel rested.
posted by angry modem at 1:45 PM on July 15, 2005

My ex- always claimed to be able to do this, but I realized that he woke up frequently during the night and checked the clock, ruining his sleep. I do think there's a "time sense. " I don't have it at all, can't remember dates, have no sense of what time it is, am usually late, or foolishly early, etc.

I deal with this by trying to keep regular hours. If I consistently set the clock and get up at the same time, I start to wake up at that time or a few minutes earlier. It doesn't work if I get overtired.

It also doesn't work if I'm in a new place. The noises and rhythm of my neighborhood are predictable, the sun comes in at a regular time (albeit a few minutes different every day), and the body keeps track.

The best way to actually get up is to make it a priority, get to bed in time to make sure you've had enough sleep, and develop the habit of getting right up. I, of course, have not developed this habit.
posted by theora55 at 1:46 PM on July 15, 2005

If you are not a morning person (as I am), the most effective thing to help you wake up is not noise -- it's light. Putting a lamp on a timer set to turn on 10-15 minutes before your alarm goes off can make waking up a much easier process, especially if you don't get much sunlight in your bedroom.

Which doesn't answer your question about "mental alarm closks." Sorry. I find that I can only wake up on cue if I'm anticipating something of dire importance the next day -- catching a flight, first day of a new job, etc. Maybe tightly-wound personalities experience that sort of stress every night, and it helps them wake up in the morning. I wouldn't know.
posted by junkbox at 1:58 PM on July 15, 2005

I can do this too; I'm also good at short-time events like a kitchen timer, to the extent that I often don't use one any more. I can be watching TV, playing a computer game, reading a book -- and something says "it's time!". When I do set an alarm, I'm usually there within 30 seconds of it going off (pre, not post).

How do I do it? I have no idea -- but it's probably going to burn me one day as I age and the ability fades.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 2:45 PM on July 15, 2005

How to Become and Early Riser answers the question of how to actually get up when you wake up. < / jackie childs>
posted by ajr at 3:13 PM on July 15, 2005

How to Become and Early Riser answers the question of how to actually get up when you wake up.

No, it doesn't. It basically says "Just do it."
posted by duck at 4:40 PM on July 15, 2005

Don't be sleep deprived, or you'll fail to wake up at the intended time.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:12 PM on July 15, 2005

i can't answer the first question, although i almost always get up at a reasonably early time whether i set an alarm or not ... but the question of how to get up ...

you just have to do it ... you have to get out of the bed and stand on your feet right away ... you have to really want to get up at the time you get up

if you don't then you were just kidding yourself about wanting to get up then ... i set my alarm for the time i want to get up and just do it ... once you get into that habit, it gets easy ... and it really is a matter of habit and self-discipline
posted by pyramid termite at 10:54 PM on July 15, 2005

trevyn, cracked me up.

This is an interesting thread. I've cogitated on this before.

I work nights and am not a morning person, nor am I often called upon to rise early in the morn. But, on those occasions where I am forced to rise earlier than I would rather, I never need the alarm. I set it just in case, but always wake before it buzzsaws my brain.

Many times I too have surprised myself and others with a kitchen timer, when I would walk into the kitchen to check on whatever is in the oven at the moment the timer goes off. I have never assumed I was unique, though. Quite the opposite, I am sure it is very common. I have spent a lot of time in a kithcen, though.
posted by wsg at 11:03 PM on July 15, 2005

To encourage yourself to get up, have something really good on rising, that you don't allow yourself otherwise. For me, this is my coffee. I get to drink 4-5 cups in a row in the morning, and its good stuff! I love it, and can only have 1 more cup in the afternoon, which I need to go make even now.

As for waking up, I do it, I don't know how. But the last few years, I have the opposite problem. I wake up in the middle of the night and get confused. For some reason, I think its time for coffee, convinced I read the clock. Last time this happened (a week ago) I went so far as to have half a cup before noticing the time was....midnight!!!
posted by Goofyy at 8:11 AM on July 16, 2005

Confusional arousals are a sign of some disorders, including sleep apnea and epilepsy. If one, a hypothetical one, were (subjunctive mood) having them regularly one might want to get them checked out.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing above should be construed as medical advice either general or specific to a particular person's condition, prognosis, treatment, or recommended course of action. Any information provided is general background information and is not warranted with respect to applicability, veracity, nor safety. how fucking obnoxious was that?
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:13 PM on July 16, 2005

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