Saturday, 3 Dec 2022

Why you need to invest in an old-school alarm clock

gif of alarm clock going off

You’ve heard the advice from everyone from sleep experts to their mums: you really should make your bedroom a phone-free zone.

But, if you’re anything like us, you have one response to that bit of wisdom – ‘but I need my phone’s alarm to wake up on time for work’.

It’s a handy excuse, but we’ve got a solution. Rather than relying on your phone, it’s time to invest in an old-school alarm clock.

Let’s be clear. By old-school, we don’t mean that said alarm clock needs to be analog. But it does need to be an actual clock that serves only to do two things: tell the time and sound an alarm (and mimics the sunrise, if you’re feeling fancy).

Then, you won’t have any excuse to not do what all the experts say and stick your phone in a drawer in a different room.

Why should you do this? Let’s break it down.

No more pre-sleep doomscrolling means better sleep

We’ve all been there. You’ve brushed your teeth and got all cosy in bed, then, when you know full well you should be reading a book or meditating, you reach for your phone and do some pre-snooze TikTok scrolling.

You can pretend all you want that it’s to ‘help you drift off’, but come on – you know it just keeps you up longer and later.

Willpower is weak, and knowing that going on your phone right before you try to sleep is bad isn’t enough to make you quit it. Remove the temptation by banning your phone from the bedroom and putting it far out of reach.

‘You should consider a traditional alarm clock for your bedroom that’s separate from your phone as it’s easy for us to be distracted by what’s taking place on our screens while relying on your phone as an alarm,’ says Colin Espie, a neuroscientist and professor of sleep science.

‘The activities we tend to undertake using these devices – checking email and social media, playing games, watching movies – keep us alert and engaged.’

No more looking at social media the second you wake up

Another bad habit many of us fall into: reaching for our phones and scrolling the moment we wake up.

That’s a path that’s all the more easy to go down if your phone serves as your alarm clock – before you’re even conscious, you’re reaching for your phone to hit snooze.

This is, frankly, a terrible way to start the day.

‘By reaching for our phones in the morning and receiving so much stimulation from our hand held devices, we are already on edge and this can cause us to feel anxious or unsettled,’ Serena Rakha (@fithabitgp), an NHS GP and health coach specialising in lifestyle medicine, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘The time we spend scrolling triggers the adrenaline-fuelled fight/flight response.

‘Checking emails, the news and social platforms before you’ve left the house causes constant “microstresses” on the body, in turn affecting our performance, concentration and mood in the day leading to poor food choices and other negative behaviours.

‘This can cause negative effects on our mental and physical health.’

How to break the habit of looking at screens the moment you wake up

Serena shares some top tips to break the habit of looking at your phone first thing:

  • Don’t have your phone in the bedroom, or if you absolutely have to, have it as far away from you as possible
  • Uninstall apps that you tend to reach for or remove them from your home screen
  • Have your bedroom as an entirely tech-free zone
  • Fill your bedside table with other, more positive items associated with sleep, such as soothing skin oils, a sleeping mask, and pillow sprays
  • Create a mini routine to fill the space your phone usually takes: the moment you wake up, could you do a three-minute meditation, some stretches, read a book, make your to-do list for the day?

Even on silent, your phone disrupts your sleep

We know what you’re thinking. It’s fine to keep using your phone as an alarm clock as long as you’re not scrolling on it when you should be sleeping… right?

Not so, we’re afraid. Your phone really needs to be out of your sleeping space.

‘Cell phone screens produce “blue light” (visible light with relatively short wavelengths), which is known to suppress our natural sleep hormones,’ notes Colin.

Just having your screen in sight can disrupt melatonin production, making it harder to drift off and damaging the quality of your sleep through the night. Yes, even if your phone is on silent and you’re not ‘actively’ looking at it.

Establish a regular wakeup time and sleep schedule

The gold standard of sleep and wake routines is to rouse yourself naturally from a full eight hours, but we know that’s not particularly realistic.

Having an old-school alarm clock that you keep set at the same time every day (yes, even at weekends) is the next best thing, as it ensures you get into a regular wakeup schedule.

Dr Neil Stanley explains: ‘The body craves regularity and so having a regular wake up time can be a very positive change in terms of improving sleep.

‘This is because the body actually starts preparing to wake up about one and a half hours before you actually awake. Therefore, if your body knows when it is going to wake then it can maximise the sleep opportunity as well as prepare itself to wake up.

‘If it does not know when you are going to wake it cannot prepare and thus you are liable to feel groggy when you wake.

‘The vast majority of people these days use their mobile phone as their alarm clock which puts an “instrument of sleep disruption” in easy reach, for you to check what is going on before sleep and when you wake in the night or in the morning.’

You can break the snooze habit

If you can, be brave and opt for an alarm clock that doesn’t have the option of a snooze button.

You know that your phone has the option to set multiple alarms and snooze each one, gently eroding any semblance of an actual wakeup time. A proper, old-school alarm clock might be trickier to overrule.

Dr Neil says: ‘However you are awakened, don’t hit snooze! Set the alarm for the time you have to get up, and then get up.’

Allows you to keep your room as a sleep sanctuary, encouraging your brain to switch off

If you struggle to get to sleep each night, your phone might be to blame.

Clearing your bedroom of all tech and any stuff that isn’t for the purpose of sleep (including a home office setup) sends your brain important signals that this is a space for rest.

‘You should ideally make your bedroom a “device exclusion zone”,’ says Colin. ‘If you manage to reserve your bedroom for sleep and sleep only you are more likely to fall asleep faster each night, as your brain develops an ever-stronger association between that environment and sleep.’

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