If you have six different alarms set for any given weekday morning, you're not alone...but it may be hurting your sleep schedule
Far gone (for most) are the days when an actual, round-face alarm clock sat on your nightstand, slamming its little hammer back and forth between vibrating bells to wake you up in the shrillest way possible.
Now, it's more likely that you wake up to the alarm on your phone, which might be plugged in near the bed or even tucked in right next to you. Your clock app's functionality is smooth, the interface couldn't be easier, and the sound can be programmed so you don't despise it and wake up enraged (hello, ripples ringtone). Couldn't be more useful, right?
Well, your phone's alarm clock settings can also shed some light on your regular sleep habits. Daniel A. Barone, M.D., a sleep expert at the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, explains what those settings could really mean for your health. (And find out How Your Sleep Schedule Affects Your Weight Gain and Disease Risk.)
1. You have a hard time waking up. Do you set alarms for 7:00 a.m., 7:04 a.m., 7:20 a.m., and 7:45 a.m., knowing that just one alarm won't be enough to get you up? Then you're probably well-acquainted with hitting the snooze button, and you probably know it's not very good for you.
"It takes about an hour to wake up slowly, in terms of your brain's neurotransmitters," Barone says. "If you interrupt that process, the neurotransmitters reset. When you finally wake up at 7:30 a.m., you feel very groggy and out of it." You're not getting thirty extra minutes of sleep—as it's hardly quality sleep—and you wake up even crankier than when you started. (On that note, Is It Better to Sleep In or Work Out?
It's not your fault if you love snoozing, of course. "Hitting snooze feels good! It releases serotonin when you go back to sleep," Barone says, of the neurotransmitter most often associated with happiness. So take comfort, snoozers: You're not lazy, you're just doing what your body wants you to do.
2. Your schedule is all over the place. Maybe your phone is set for 6:00 a.m. every weekday, then 9:00 a.m. for yoga on Saturday, and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday because that's your lazy day. "We recommend consistent sleep and wake times," Barone says, for best functioning. That said, "if you're not having problems, then the different times aren't an issue.
What kind of problems? "Not being able to function, or get through your day, without having an overwhelming need to fall asleep," Barone explains. "If [a patient] falls alseep at their desk at work, they're not well-rested. If they need ten cups of coffee to survive, they're not well rested." Know yourself and what your peak performance feels like in order to make sure you've had enough sleep to get you there. (Fun fact: science says most of us are actually getting enough sleep.)
3. You're traveling too much. Most phones have a little system built in that lets you check time zones all around the world. Of course, if you're bouncing around among them and setting your wake-up time for wacky hours, your body will pay the price. "Jet lag is a big deal," Barone says. "It usually takes a day or a night to reacclimate yourself to changes in one time zone." So if you go from New York to Bangkok for a vacation (lucky you!), it might be 12 days before you start to feel like a human again.
4. You have a hard time powering off at the end of the day. Your phone offers a million kinds of entertainment, right there in your hand: articles, music, messages from your friends, games, photos, and a lot more. So you may sit up and fiddle with it long after you've set your wake-up call—that is, when you should already be sleeping.
"Your phone emits blue light frequency. It tricks the brain into thinking the sun is out," Barone explains. "Your brain shuts off the melatonin [hormone], which can make it hard to sleep." It's not just your phone leaking that light into your eyes, Barone points out, but any device that's backlit, like a TV or e-reader.
An app like Checky alerts you to how many times you're checking your phone, so you can see if yours is keeping you up at night. The surprising bright side? If you roll over in the morning and scroll through Instagram or your emails to wake yourself up, you've got the doctor's approval.
"If you use your phone first thing when waking up, it's not a problem. In fact, that's what I do too," Barone admits. "As long as you're not sitting around in bed for three hours, scrolling away, and not going to work." That's a whole other issue, which you should also deal with ASAP. (In the meantime, try these 3 Ways to Use Tech at Night—and Still Sleep Soundly.)