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Alarms: An Unhealthy Way to Wake

By Chris Brown

Earlier this year, Business Insider Deutschland reporter Valentina Resetarits conducted an experiment where she stopped using her alarm for a week. As a result, she found immediate improvements with her energy, performance, and mental acuity. Her single-person experiment supports an outcome that large research projects have been finding for years: alarms are bad for our health, both mentally and physically. It takes diving into this research to discover just how disruptive alarms are to our daily lives and determine healthier waking alternatives.

Alarms Give You a Never-Ending Weekly Jet Lag

One reason alarms are bad is that they support a common modern phenomenon called "social jet lag." Social jet lag is a term coined by the University of Munich's professor, Till Roenneberg, to describe the sleep cycle disruptions that occur when your weekend waking schedule is at least one hour different from your weekday alarm. The weekly change in wake time generates an inconsistency which disrupts sleep patterns and causes many of the negative effects of alarm-inspired waking. In fact, the University of Munich found that for every hour of weekly social jet lag, a person was 33 percent more likely to be overweight.

Blaring Alarms Cause Stress

In a study by the National Institute of Industrial Health, participants who woke to a loud alarm had higher blood pressure and heart rates. This makes sense as our bodies are in a prone state when sleeping. If awoken suddenly, as is the case with an alarm, a rush of adrenaline must be fired so that the person is able to deal with whichever danger might be causing the sudden wakefulness. Over time, a chronic morning "fight or flight" adrenaline response can cause long-term stress, depression, and cardiovascular problems.

Alarms May Cause Short-Term Performance Loss

Because of sleep cycle interruption, a phenomenon known as sleep inertia often results from alarm use. Sleep inertia is a tired state of poor mental and physical performance, which can last up to four hours after waking. It occurs when an alarm hits during the deep stage of one's sleep cycle. Since sleep cycles are relatively unpredictable, whether sleep inertia hits any given morning is a gamble. Most people have experienced the poor mood, disorientation, muscle weakness, and poor decision making of sleep inertia at some point in their lives. The only solution to preventing sleep inertia is to turn off your alarm and wake naturally.

Alternatives to Shock Alarm Waking

The best way to ditch the blaring alarm is to train yourself to wake on time without one. However, if you are still in the process reducing your alarm use or have a variable schedule that isn't conducive to eliminating alarms altogether, there are ways to reduce the negative effects of alarm waking. Many sleep doctors recommend using a light alarm (which uses light to simulate dawn and get you rising faster) or an alarm that slowly wakes you over a 10-minute period with progressively louder sounds. These will allow your body to start the natural process of waking slowly, rather than shock itself alert mid-sleep.

Improving your sleep pattern today, by first quitting that shocking alarm, can provide you with immediate life benefits that may supercharge your future.  

To learn more about your health, wellness and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Davis, Calif.

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