Help my sister wake up on her damn own, or so help me...
June 28, 2007 8:53 PM   Subscribe

I need the best alarm clock to wake up my impossible-to-wake sister. Issue: it can't wake ME up, in the next room.

My sister sleeps unbelievably soundly. She already has an alarm clock, but sleeps through it, so it falls to everyone else to wake her up according to the signs she posts everywhere.

This has gone on for so long that we are all well beyond pissed off at the thought of waking her up. And she's so damn impossible to wake up.

Punk music at the loudest level possible? Sleeps through it.

Flickering lights? Lights on full-blast, pointed in her face? Zzzz.

So far, the best way of waking her us is to pull her blankets off of her, and then I would shake her. This works. Woohoo!

But I'm not willing to rig up a blanket-pulling-mechanism that allows for the fact that some nights, she mummifies herself in there... so most blanket-pulling mechanisms risk breaking a bone of hers.

There needs to be an alarm that will go off regularly (like, every 5 minutes) for an hour, and is preferably attached to her body, since one of her favourite habits is to wake up, go to the couch, watch whatever is on and fall asleep there. She's so groggy when she does that, it's almost like sleep-walking; I don't think 'training her out of that habit' would work.

I can sometimes sleep very lightly, and she can sometimes need to get up at weird hours (3 a.m.), so if it wakes me up, I'll be grumpy.

I can think of nothing that will work.

Help, please. Do I need a Rube Goldberg machine involving canaries, a bucket of ice water, and a lit candle? Is divine intervention needed?

(the question written in conjunction with my unwakeable sibling herself).
posted by flibbertigibbet to Shopping (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like she's well beyond this, but you might give Clocky a try. I've been eye-ing it myself for some time.
posted by brina at 8:57 PM on June 28, 2007

Shake 'n' bake? No, it's the shakeawake!
posted by furtive at 9:06 PM on June 28, 2007

You might give this a read. Steve Pavlina writes about how to wake up consistently.

You might want to check out:, probably more that you are wanting.

What has worked for me is have alarms that affect multiple senses. My phone makes noise and vibrates. The vibrating wakes me up more than the audible alarm. I place it under my pillow for a gentle alarm, and on a small wooden night stand for a loud awakening.

Just some thoughts.
posted by peripatew at 9:07 PM on June 28, 2007

No joke, but you might look into a bed vibrator, which is what some deaf use to wake or alert them to emergency or other alarming needs.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:07 PM on June 28, 2007

Sonic Alert. I have the one with two alarms. Same idea as the ShakeAwake mentioned above (which I've used in the past), but much stronger, as it plugs into the wall. You can turn off the alarm and it just buzzes.

You can also get the same sort of thing with an extra plug on the back for a lamp that will flash with the alarm. I know you said you tried that, but the combination of lights + vibe is even better than either alone. (Or even a clock with a strobe built in - never had one myself, but I tried a friend's once. Wow.)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:15 PM on June 28, 2007

This may not directly answer your question but it seems relevant so I thought I'd throw it in there. Is she getting enough sleep? I used to be impossible to wake up and it cleared right up when I got on a regular sleep schedule and started getting enough sleep. Perhaps the alarm is not the issue.
posted by MasterShake at 9:17 PM on June 28, 2007

I'm an idiot. For "turn off the alarm and it just buzzes", read, "turn off the beeper and it just vibrates".

As long as I'm commenting again anyway, I should point out that it's not really a nuisance under the pillow like you might think, unless you don't use a pillow. In which case, you can put it beneath the mattress - that'll make an even stronger shake, although it does make more noise that way.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:17 PM on June 28, 2007

Who suffers the consequences if she does not wake up in a timely manner? Most people will wake up (with or w/out normal alarms) if they have sufficient motivation to do so. Does she sleep through on Xmas morning, or the morning of her wedding day? Or is she just late for work, and you have to get her there? You could pursue this on other fronts (psychological/medical) besides looking for alarm clocks.....
posted by pgoes at 9:21 PM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Get a CD player alarm clock and then record a voice calling her to wake up and burn it to cd.

With all my sound sleeping acquaintances, their name always woke them up even though louder things did not.
posted by dobbs at 9:22 PM on June 28, 2007

My boyfriend is *exactly* like your sister. His family say that he's been impossible to wake up like that ever since childhood. He got treated for sleep apnea a year or so ago, and he's now getting a good night's sleep with his CPAP machine, instead of the terrible night's sleep he was getting before... but it doesn't make him any easier to wake up!!! So I feel your pain. Right now he uses a combination of pleasant music that starts when I need to get up, his cell phone alarm that goes off about a half hour later, and then the annoying beeping alarm that I think could wake the dead, but that he's still able to sleep through sometimes. Fortunately at that point, though, a human voice will wake him up, so me telling him to shut off the alarm wakes him up.

I'm going to be watching this thread with interest.
posted by MsMolly at 9:26 PM on June 28, 2007

Some recommendations from the CBC.
posted by greatgefilte at 9:29 PM on June 28, 2007

Best answer: It's great that you're getting solutions here.

In addition to whatever you decide to try, I propose the following:

Stop fucking waking her up!

Part of being a grownup is being able to get up and out the door when you need to. I guarantee that if she knows that no one is going to help her with this, she'll somehow adjust a lot faster than you (or she) might think.

I know that when I have to wake up particularly early for some reason or another, I'll keep waking up to make sure I'm not running late, sleeping really restlessly with my wake-up time in the back of my mind. It makes for anxious and unsatisfying sleep at first, but it only takes a while for your body and mind to get the point. My current job required me to get up an hour earlier than I was used to, but before long my eyes were open five minutes before my alarm went off, because I was so nervous about sleeping in.

It's sweet that you've been such a great sport so far, but it's not your responsibility, and her "problem" requires no special treatment. Either you wake up and show up on time to your life, or you don't, and the sooner she gets used to that idea, the better off she will be.
posted by hermitosis at 9:39 PM on June 28, 2007 [6 favorites]

I'm with hermitosis. My husband was notoriously difficult to get out of bed - after waking up or being woken up, he would "just grab a few minutes more" and have to be woken again. I explained (after a few years of frustration) about how I wouldn't be taking responsbility for him anymore, but if he lost his job as a result of his behaviour, there would be other consequences too. Now, he gets up. By himself.

My daughter sets the alarm on her mobile phone and either puts in under her pillow, or accross the room so that she will have to get up to answer it. Of course, with the across the room thing, it wakes me up too.
posted by b33j at 9:52 PM on June 28, 2007

I use my mobile phone, but on vibrate. It's across the room, so on the first buzz I have to go get it. Then I put it under my pillow while I snooze for 15 minutes. The buzz never disturbed my partner at all.

And again, since I knew that little buzz was THE deciding facter as to whether I would make it to work that day, I learned to listen damn hard for it.
posted by hermitosis at 9:57 PM on June 28, 2007

Also suggest that she investigate "sleep hygiene" and/or whether she may have a sleep phase disorder.
posted by snarfodox at 10:00 PM on June 28, 2007

I can sleep through anything. Once a large metal fire alarm (one of the old metal ones with a bell inside) went off not 3 feet above my head and I didn't wake up. The reason I make it to work is that I have trained myself to wake up to certain sounds, which I do by by thinking about it before I fall asleep in the first place.

I have a little routine before I go to bed where I check my alarm clock 4 or 5 times, and get the time I have to wake up "set" in my head. Using this method I pretty much always wake up 5 mintues before the alarm goes off and am relatively mentally alert. If I just fall asleep with no thought as to when I need to wake up then I won't. I've slept for 14+ hours in a row on many occasions and when I do finally wake up? I'm still sleepy.
posted by fshgrl at 10:09 PM on June 28, 2007

I use the WakeAssure vibrating alarm clock and my cell phone on vibrate as well. The cell phone is good since she can technically take that with her to the couch, and the vibration won't bother you. I am very difficult to wake as well, and I find that even though it still isn't easy to get up, that combination does the trick without drawing the ire of my roommates or significant other.
posted by ml98tu at 10:10 PM on June 28, 2007

I can sleep through anything.

Me too, and it has been that way for a long, long time. Some of my buddies still like to tell the 20 year old story of piling seven mattresses on top of me at fifth grade camp.

It seems that the only thing I can ever get up on time for is the airport, because there are serious and immediate consequences to screwing that up.

I think my hypothyroidism is at the root of this... I need literally a three-alarm clock to wake me up. It drives my fiancee effing crazy, but maybe in your case you can run a fan in your room to drown the noise out and give that a shot.
posted by fusinski at 10:29 PM on June 28, 2007

I'm with hermitosis. In my experience, people who are hard to wake up just don't want to bad enough.

On the boat, we discourage alarm clocks (they disturb everyone else). The messenger watch goes around and wakes everyone up before the watch changes. You get two wake up calls, and that's it. Chronic oversleepers suddenly get real punctual when you arrange for them to get relieved twice as late as they were and they start missing meal hours.

Maybe it's because they're so afraid they don't get any sleep at first. Good. It eventually becomes a habit to wake up when your alarm goes off, and then the "problem" is solved.
posted by ctmf at 11:39 PM on June 28, 2007

one of her favourite habits is to wake up, go to the couch, watch whatever is on and fall asleep there

She's a lazy baby enjoying the coddling you give her.

Four walls with only you between them is the best alarm in cases like this. To set this up, she just has to install her body in an apartment all by herself. She will get up after that. (Or lose her job or fail school or whatever it is that she secretly is dreading and avoiding by not hopping out of bed as she should -- that's the real problem, her dislike of what she does). And your frustration with her will end.

But another tip: she has to drink water before bed. And if she gets up to pee in the middle of the night, she has to drink another couple large glasses of water after peeing. No one sleeps through having to pee for very long. Or is she also a bed wetter? Does she suck her thumb? How old are we talking? Maybe she hates the kindergarten teacher.
posted by pracowity at 11:55 PM on June 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

What about earplugs for you? I sleep with them every night because of Mr happyturtle's snoring.
posted by happyturtle at 12:57 AM on June 29, 2007

When my boyfriend wont get up I cook bacon, its the only sure-fire way to get him out of bed b ut that would require your intervention or a grill on a timer.

But drinking a lot of water before bed works too - if you can get her to drink it.

She's not your responsibility, if she wont get up - let her stay in bed. Is she going to be living with your forever? She needs to learn to get up by herself and go to bed at an appropriate time for the amount of sleep she needs. If she's not waking up she's not getting enough sleep. If she needs a lot of sleep for a really long time then either her sleep isnt restful enough (maybe bad matress or other disturbances) or she has a medical problem.
posted by missmagenta at 1:51 AM on June 29, 2007

I'm mostly with hermitosis, but just to be thorough, has she been checked out by a doctor? Once anything out of her control such as low blood sugar or low blood pressure has been ruled out and/or corrected, stop coddling, I'd say.
posted by RobotHeart at 7:42 AM on June 29, 2007

Earplugs for you, the consequences of sleeping late for her.
posted by desjardins at 7:51 AM on June 29, 2007

As someone with serious atypical sleep problems since childhood, I would like to invite all the people saying that this person is just not a grownup, or she just doesn't want whatever bad enough, please -spend a week or three with a host of sleep issues like night terrors, sleep walking, etc. Then, we'll talk about not being able to wake up.

To the OP and sister -how about full spectrum or plant lights? Can you try an alarm clock that also has a lightbox of sorts? Or maybe a plant lamp on a timer? I see you mention lights, flickering lights, but have you tried full spectrum bulbs? Beyond that, I use the cel phone set to $really annoying ring + vibrate. Good luck, in any event.
posted by kellyblah at 9:05 AM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Another one agreeing with Hermitosis.

I used to have a similar problem in that my SO wouldn't get up when she needed to. I decided to stop waking her up, period. Once she was late for a few important meetings, she figured out that she needed to go to bed on time to get up on time.

You need to make it clear to her that it's her problem and that she needs to work on it and that asking you to be responsible for it is unacceptable.

Alternatively, you could just throw a bucket of water on her. It's almost guaranteed to wake her up, and it's fun for you.
posted by jaded at 9:21 AM on June 29, 2007

Yeah, I'd support the people sying this is not just laziness. With my boyfriend, it's not that he hears the alarm and makes a concious decision to sleep through it, it's that it can be blaring at deafening levels, and it won't even wake him up.
posted by MsMolly at 9:33 AM on June 29, 2007

Your sister really should get checked out for a sleeping disorder. This sounds like my old roommate who had one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:00 AM on June 29, 2007

No, it may not be laziness, MsMolly, I'm sure he believes he doesn't hear it, (and not to pick on you, I've often thought about this and find it interesting) but I don't think it's true that he doesn't hear it. You hear everything your ears can hear, even when you're asleep. It's a matter of training your subconscious to listen for it as a significant noise in all the other noises.

It has stopped amazing me how many "difficult to wake up" people (normally), roll out of bed to ask what's going on instantly when the gentle hissing noise of the ventilation on the boat stops. (Turning off vent fans is one of the very first actions for most major catastrophes on the boat, like a fire or reactor scram - it usually means some sort of alarm is supposed to be going off).

I'm no sleep researcher, but I think it's because that noise (or lack thereof) is significant to them. Even while they're sleeping. Even exhausted after getting 2 hours of sleep a day for a week. That (change in) noise could mean your life. It's just a matter of caring about your alarm clock that much.
posted by ctmf at 11:38 AM on June 29, 2007

We used to joke, though, that the best alarm clock would be a slightly modified battery travel alarm clock. Modified by writing your name on it really big.

You set it for the time you want to get up, then find the biggest, meanest, most angry person around and throw it in his bed.
posted by ctmf at 11:43 AM on June 29, 2007

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