We have been using alarm clocks for a long time because they help us solve a problem of waking up late. Their role in our life is unvaluable, and most of us may have a hard time making it to work every day without one.
Mark Muehlbach, Ph.D., F.AASM, R.PSGT, clinical director at the Clayton Sleep Institute in St. Louis, provides a little background on why waking up in the morning can be so difficult:
Ideally, a person will wake on his or her own when they need to each morning. These are the people who set an alarm but wake a few minutes before the alarm sounds, as if their brain has an expectation to be awake at a certain time. On the other hand is the person who needs two or three alarms to wake them.
Our busy schedules and external influences like mobile phones, televisions, tablets, streetlights, neighborhood noises and a myriad of other stimuli can interrupt our sleep, which requires our bodies to demand more sleep and, in turn, lead to us waking feeling drowsy and tired.
For humans, it is not that difficult to override our internal clock: staying up late or having an irregular sleep/wake schedule can influence our internal clock and make it difficult to arise when we need to.
Shift workers (those who work when the rest of us sleep) often alter their internal body clock, flipping and flopping their day/night schedules, and may need alarm clocks to wake them as they battle their internal biology.
Let’s see how alarm clocks benefit us:
Normal Sleep Routine
Alarm clocks can also be helpful for keeping sleep schedules regular. Waking up around the same time each day is beneficial for our internal biological clocks. Using an alarm clock can help keep your schedule consistent and normalize your sleep patterns.
Keeping Up with Society’s Time
Without alarms, many of us would oversleep and wind up late for work. As great as sleeping in sounds, being on time is a (harsh) reality we often must abide. In order for business and schools to run smoothly, agreeing on a set time to be there can be essential, whether you’d like more sleep or not.
Peace of Mind
Some researchers suggest that alarms can also provide peace of mind, adding:
Some people don’t set an alarm but then look at their clock when the awaken during the night. This can cause anxiety and making it hard to sleep. In this case it’s helpful to set an alarm to allow a safer feeling during the night.
Potential Downsides of Alarm Clocks
However, alarm clocks aren’t always helpful; in fact, sometimes they can be counterproductive to overall health and even for getting good sleep.
Sleep anxiety, or worrying about not falling asleep, can paradoxically contribute to insomnia
And, alarm clocks are right there helping, counting down the precious minutes of sleep left until wake up time. Most sleep experts suggest covering clock faces or turning them away from the bed so you’re not tempted to watch the minutes tick by.
For some people, levels of the stress hormone cortisol naturally rise shortly after waking. However there’s no studies showing alarms further increase cortisol, being startled awake by a loud alarm first thing in the morning certainly doesn’t make things more relaxing.
Researchers are also looking into correlations between heart attacks and alarm clocks, due to their adrenaline-spiking jolt which can trigger the flight-or-fight response and accelerate heart rate and blood pressure.
Social jetlag refers to the sleep deprivation many people experience as they try to eek by on less sleep in order to keep up with social demands. One large study
showed that two-thirds of adults sleep over an hour more on weekends as opposed to weekdays, and that although wakeup times are staying the same, we are going to bed later. Researchers argue this is messing with our internal biological clocks, affecting sleep and significantly increasing risk of weight gain and obesity as well.
Some alarm clocks have brightly-lit faces, and while good for seeing the time, researchers have found that lights at night can affect sleep.