Wake-Up Call
March 4, 2004 6:41 AM   Subscribe

Wake-up problems. I'm currently seeing a doctor to deal with my insomnia. Some progress is being made with getting to sleep, but my other major problem is getting up in the morning. (more inside)

I'll hit my snooze 5 or 10 times before my wife finally kicks me out of bed. Most of the time I'm not even aware I'm hitting it. I'm deep in REM sleep at that point. I'd give anything to wake at 6:00 AM and jump out of bed, but instead I get up at 8:00 and rush out the door to work. My doctor recommended devices like these, which simulate a sunrise. Does anyone have any experience using them? Reviews on-line are hard to come by, the only one I found reviewed was the low-wattage one at the bottom of the page and reviews were negative. The higher watt lamps (and controllers) seem to be the way to go, but I'm not sure I want to drop $80 - $100 on something that may not even help me.

I've tired just about everything, putting my clock on the other side of the room, setting my clock ahead 20 minutes, using two clocks, etc. Nothing has worked.

My doctor's is the leading expert on sleep at Harvard, he knows his stuff, and he recommends exposure to bright light first thing in the morning. It all makes sense to me, and I'm willing to drop the change on one of these lights, but I want to make sure I get the right one. He doesn't have any specific recommendations. Anyone? Bueller?
posted by bondcliff to Health & Fitness (27 answers total)
Having three small children jumping on my bed yelling "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" always works for me.

Actually, the only aid for sleep-waking ailments I've experienced have been solutions aimed at my underlying stressors. Once I was able to focus on the cause, and not the symptoms, I made progress.

I know that's not a recommendation for a light, but there ya go. YMMV.
posted by sacre_bleu at 7:31 AM on March 4, 2004

A friend of mine with hardcore SAD got a full spectrum lamp about a year ago, and it has evidently changed her life. She sits in front of it for about half an hour every morning. Yeah, that's not a light recommendation either, but anyway...
posted by mookieproof at 7:40 AM on March 4, 2004

I have similar problems. I've found that drinking water first thing in the morning helps. Cold water, if possible. Wakes you up from the inside. But barring that, my only advice is press on, soldier. There is a war between good and evil in my brain every morning at 7:45 AM. I put my alarm across the room, and when I get up to turn it off, it takes every ounce of my willpower not to crawl back into bed. But good prevails. Usually.

Another factor is room temperature. If it's too cold outside the blankets, you'll stay under them. Get a space heater if you're in cooler climes.
posted by Succa at 7:41 AM on March 4, 2004

Have you been screened for sleep apnea?
posted by konolia at 7:41 AM on March 4, 2004

Response by poster: Konolia, that may be the next step, according to my doctor.

Succa, you're dead on about the Good vs. Evil war. My trouble is that evil usually wins because good is not awake enough to fight.
posted by bondcliff at 8:52 AM on March 4, 2004

Red Bull will get you going....

I suspect that the sunrise thing will work. My old place before I got married was really dark. Strike that, it was pitch black. It was like being back in the womb. I could sleep forever.

When my wife and I got to our new place, I couldn't have the tinfoiled windows and blackout curtains because such things aren't stylish. So we have have some worthless (but fashionable!) curtains that left all light in. I wake up easily now and early because of the blinding light in the morning.

I have never read much on this topic, but I imagine it has to do with our genetic makeup that light causes us to wake up. Probably some sort of evolutionary thing. I do know that the supplement Melatonin helps you go to sleep by raising your bodies level of natural Melatonin that signals your body to go to sleep. I remeber reading that light breaks down Melatonin. Thus, after the sun goes down, your Melatonin should rise to where your body is ready for sleep (the supplement gets you there faster). And likewise, when the sun rises, it breaks down your Melatonin, thereby eliminating that sleepy feeling.

Ok, I am done rambling now.
posted by Seth at 8:54 AM on March 4, 2004

Five pints of water before you go to bed will do the trick.

I have to go with the lamp answer - in the last two weeks I've gone from waking in night to waking is daylight and it's sooo much easier. I might actually get one myself some time...
posted by twine42 at 9:06 AM on March 4, 2004

I have found that any really bright light will work pretty well. We have about 200-300 watts worth of bulbs in an overhead fixture and they do the trick for me. I tend to get up with the alarm, turn on the really bright overhead light, and then maybe hit the snooze button once more. By the time the alarm rings again, I'm more ready to wake up. Also, some good exercise when you've finally gotten out of bed to get your blood going can help. I sometimes run up and down the stairs a few times. Make sure you're not taking anything at night [Melatonin is a big culprit here] that keeps you groggy in the morning.
posted by jessamyn at 9:11 AM on March 4, 2004

Get a new job. I've fought with this my whole life, and only in the last few months have I realised that what seemed random was actually a sleep pattern fighting to get out - 2.30am sleep, 11am wakeup. So I've taken a job (promotion too, whee) that lets me work that and I'm all set to be happy. I have big sleep problems - I slept through an entire day once - and have tried:

Sleep tablets
Sun-effect lamps
Melatonin at night (bad)
Open windows
Open curtains
Moving my bed
Early nights
Late nights

and nothing would make getting up in the morning easier. Except for one *blissful* week, when I was so badly jetlagged I found myself waking at 6am. I took hill walks, read books, had a whale of a time. And then it went back to normal.

BTW, the comedy situations I've found myself waking in - like you I turn alarms off in a total sleep state. I used to try moving them about so it would be more difficult for me to do it automatically, and more than one morning I've woken up to find my TV, stereo and computer all turned off - and *unplugged*. Other mornings I've sat up in bed and stared at the clock for a good few minutes, trying to work out what these confusing number-shapes mean. Do they mean "go back to sleep" or "get up". I eventually wrote "9.00 == get up now" and taped it underneath so I could just compare shapes.

If you can't change jobs, I wish you the very, very best of luck.
posted by bonaldi at 9:25 AM on March 4, 2004

Hm. If I were to get one of these dawn simulators, I'd be sure to package a flourescent bulb with it, to get more stimulating, sun-like rays out of it. Unfortunately, I've never seen the flourescent bulb that can be dimmed. Presumably, this is necessary for the gradual dawn wake-up.

Are all full-spectrum bulbs flourescent? Anyone know of one that works on a dimmer?
posted by scarabic at 9:59 AM on March 4, 2004

When I lived in residence at university I did 3 things to ensure I got out of bed: set my alarm, opened the window a crack, and drank a litre of water. If the alarm didn't work my bladder and the room temperature (it was winter) would certainly get me up.
posted by ODiV at 10:34 AM on March 4, 2004

Get more alarm clocks: 1 snooze-able next to the bed set for 6 a.m., 1 across the room set to moderate volume radio set for 6:20 a.m., another in another location set for 6:40. Get a security timer, and put it on a lamp next to the bed, so that you get bright lights near 6:20 or so. Security timers are cheap and not accurate enough to be your primary alarm.

Don't have any caffeine after about noon. I find that I really need caffeine to start my day, but I can't drink it after 1 p.m. or I'll have sleep trouble.

Many people report that regular exercise and anti-depressants help them get on a regular sleep cycle. In my case, leaving a job I hated helped a lot, even without a schedule change.
posted by theora55 at 10:53 AM on March 4, 2004

I've had bouts of insomnia and screwy sleep patterns since I was a teenager and I've never been a morning person. (My body's default schedule is to fall asleep just past sunrise and wake up in mid-afternoon.)

But I've found if I can get myself up a bit before sunrise, no matter how much or how little sleep I've gotten the night before (or even how hungover, as I learned in college), I am more awake throughout the morning than by any other method. I might crash out in the middle of the day depending on the amount of sleep I got, but I'm really energized in the mornings if I do this, no matter what.

It only works if the sun rises in the next 30-45 min., because if I try it too early I just get tired when I see the sun and I go back to bed. If I wake up at or after sunrise, forget it, I'll be dragging all morning. Bright light upon waking makes me more tired - YMMV of course.

Having a morning routine is a big help for me too. Get up, take walk, make oatmeal, check email, take shower, and so on. It takes a while to set myself up but then it works like autopilot and I don't hit snooze. Mindless, slow, steady occupation carries me through to the time I walk out the door and I wake all the way up without pain. (If I rush myself it makes it worse and starts a vicious cycle.)
posted by Melinika at 10:53 AM on March 4, 2004

I'm way more alert in the morning if I've taken my vitamins the night before (my "vitamins" include a good multivitamin, essential oils from flax and fish oil, co-enzyme Q10, and an extra C tablet with bioflavonoids). And don't eat less than four hours before bedtime.
posted by kindall at 11:32 AM on March 4, 2004

Response by poster: Getting a new job is not an option, nor is adjusting my life to fit my sleep pattern. I have a wife and a child and I see them little enough as it is. Also, anything I do can't disrupt my sleeping wife too much, so the ten alarm clocks idea is out.

I'm really starting to think these clocks might be the thing.
posted by bondcliff at 11:59 AM on March 4, 2004

I have the same issue.. pre-wife, on the weekends if I didn't have a reason to wake up - I wouldn't. Three or Four in the afternoon I'd crawl out looking for food. And if there were several days off in a row like spring break during college, it would eventually go full circle consistanty sleeping later and later and staying up later and later.

I've often thought the only think that would work would be an electrode attached to my toe.

But then came wife and child. With baby makes three in the bed, and he has no trouble waking up at 6am. My alarm clock I could always snooze, my son - no such luck.
posted by dirtylittlemonkey at 12:33 PM on March 4, 2004

I had the same issue for many years. In the end, what helped me was moving to another continent and resetting my internal clock - but I realize that's not an answer you're looking for. I have one of those lamps, but truthfully they're too dim to really make a difference for me, even at the brightest. They work better to go to sleep with than to wake up to, for me anyway.

Leaving the curtains open is extremely helpful - natural sunlight absolutely makes me wake up earlier. Of course, that's not much help during the winter, depending on where you are.

Can your wife wake you up? Having an actual person wake me makes a huge difference. I also set the alarm for 20 mins earlier so I can hit snooze a few times - just enough to get me out of sleepstate gently.

It's a crappy situation to be in - I got lower grades in early classes in school/college and I almost got fired from my first job because I just couldn't get out of bed. I'm still not a morning person, but at least I'm able to make it to work on time these days. Good luck!
posted by widdershins at 1:37 PM on March 4, 2004

Drink a quart of pickle juice, first thing. At least, that's what worked for a friend in the Marines. no, really.
posted by notsnot at 2:24 PM on March 4, 2004

Woah. And I was so convinced I was alone in this. People sliding into gettting up later and later, thinking of electric shocks, moving continents. Not alone! Yay!

This is exceptionally, exceptionally easy for me to type bondcliff, but have you seriously considered a work change? I mean, perhaps you need to have a degree of acceptance about your condition? If you had asthma, say, you wouldn't force yourself to work in a dusty environment, would you? Just because the vast mass of humanity gets up early doesn't mean you should have to, just as just because they have no difficulty breathing doesn't mean asthmatics should be told to "get over it", right?

There are surely schedule changes that will let you maximise your family time. If you get the crucial after-school-to-evening hours off, you're laughing. As it is, is sounds like you're forcing your body to do things it doesn't want to do ... and not even getting the return of time with your family.

But, like I acknowledge, this is very easy to type.

But, ime, the lights suck. If opening the curtains doesn't do it, the lamps very likely won't either.
posted by bonaldi at 2:44 PM on March 4, 2004 [1 favorite]

side point - you can't dim tube lights with a normal dimmer - they just go out, but you can with a mosfet (what does the s stand for? hmmm...) dimmer. It basically cuts out parts of the 60Hz waveform to do the same job.

Hey guys, I remember something from my degree!
posted by twine42 at 4:35 PM on March 4, 2004

We love our dawn simulator. Waking up is so much easier. Full endorsement here.
posted by GaelFC at 4:39 PM on March 4, 2004

mosfet (what does the s stand for? hmmm...)

posted by kindall at 5:22 PM on March 4, 2004

this sounds crazy, but it works.

get two alarm clocks. set one for 6 and one for 7. when the 6 o'clock alarm rings, turn it off and take two nodoze. i used to take ephedra, but that's illegal now, isn't it? nodoze should do just fine. go back to sleep.

you'll either wake up on your own, or when 7 rolls around, you'll be ready to get up.

the important thing to note is that snooze is your enemy. if you NEED to go back to sleep, fine, but stop with the snooze. it trains your body to prolong the wake up period.

you can also get your wife to wake you up like a DI....by throwing a metal trashcan across the room (i'm only kinda joking with this one), preferably near your head. or setting off the smoke alarm. or BLASTING the radio. get the adrenaline pumping, and you'll get up.
posted by taumeson at 5:45 PM on March 4, 2004

A lot of people have already said things I was going to say.

First: I have one of these dawn simulators, hooked up to 5, count 'em 5, halogen lights on a track light thingy, all pointing right at my pillow. Guess what. It doesn't work. It works for some people -- it doesn't work for everyone. (I also have a light box, one of those boxes filled with special fluorescent lights that you are supposed to stare at first thing in the morning. No luck there, either.)

The current theory among people with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (which it is likely, from your description, that you fit into) is that some people are highly sensitive to light (these are the folks who have to prevent themselves from being exposed to light in the evenings, or it will make them stay awake even later), and others are highly INsensitive to light (these are the ones who find that even sunlight doesn't help reset their sleep phase much). If you are the latter, the dawn simulator won't work -- and you will sleep right through it. I slept through mine for several years; the most it did was stabilize my sleep phase a bit perhaps, but I never woke up from the light. I finally got sick of the hum of the halogen bulbs and stopped using the thing. So if you get one... make sure you can return it if it doesn't work for you. It might work, though, if you are the light-sensitive type.

I like bonaldi's post about making job changes. But of course, that's not something everyone is in a position to do. (I did it, though -- and I started to get sick less frequently, and generally be a lot happier about life.) If you have DSPS, and you have reached 30 or so and still have it (lots of people develop a temporary sleep phase change in their teens and they grow out of that as they get older, but for others it seems to be a permanent and much more difficult situation), you are likely to be fighting it for the rest of your life. Light therapy, chronotherapy, melatonin, Ambien, etc., all have mixed results, and generally require constant extreme vigilance and discipline to keep from reverting to the body's natural sleep phase. (I don't know about you, but I am not willing to wake with an alarm clock every single day for the rest of my life, just to keep to a "normal" sleep schedule. It's not worth it to me, to never be able to sleep in again on a vacation day, or never ever even once be able to stay up late to see a friend off at the airport, etc. Because if you do those things, the body says "hmm... sleeping in, staying up late, I like that!" and you are back on the night owl schedule again.)

Incidentally, it appears that DSPS is a genetic thing. ASPS -- Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome, which is basically the opposite problem, has been found to be genetic, and there are studies currently to verify the same about DSPS. So do not hate yourself for having a hard time with this; it's likely that the night owl tendency is just the way you are.

Bonaldi, you are definitely not alone (in fact, there's a mailing list for night owls -- I host it, and there is info about it on one of the pages in the first link above), and when you talked about not being able to decipher the numbers on the clock... oh, wow, is that familiar. When woken up in the middle of my sleep cycle like that I probably can't even tell you what year it is. And I will turn off alarms without any conscious awareness of doing so.
posted by litlnemo at 7:04 PM on March 4, 2004 [2 favorites]

Wow. Some fascinating (and possibly helpful) tips in this thread. I've fought this my whole teen/adult life...and hope, within about 3 or 4 years, to switch jobs in order to accomodate my body's internal timing mechanism.

Good luck, bondcliff.
posted by davidmsc at 8:11 PM on March 4, 2004

I coped with this problem by developing habits I ENJOYED first thing in the morning. Coffee at the computer is my winner. I wake up alert.

Latter in life, I have the opposite problem. I occasional wake up, maybe as early as 1am, and think its time to get up. I manage to misread the clock. I have gotten so far as starting coffee and the computer before discovering my mistake.
posted by Goofyy at 12:57 AM on March 5, 2004

thant you kindall . It's blindingly obvious when you're awake I guess. ;)
posted by twine42 at 1:11 AM on March 5, 2004

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