The alarm clock is a form of violence. It jars us at the time when we are most vulnerable and helpless. Sometimes we respond in kind. My childhood friend, Guy, had a collection of guns. When his clanging alarm clock went off one morning, he threw it out the window and shot it with his rifle.
When the steel and textile mills of the early Industrial Revolution drew in the farmers of the countryside, the clock was the ruler. Time was money. No longer was work driven by the seasons. Instead it was divided into measurable units of time, and the clock became the final arbiter. It was the factory whistle, not the rising of the sun, which moved the people to work. And the alarm clock replaced the rooster.
Our lives today are still dictated by the clock. We don’t even think about it. Train and plane schedules, television and movie programs, restaurant reservations, school, doctor and dentist appointments are all clock-driven.
But what about dream time—that delicate different reality? Dream consciousness is a shy consciousness. It won’t stand being shaken or abused. It simply vanishes.
Alarms are connected with danger and for good reason. They are used in all kinds of disaster situations: burglary, fire, air raid. In their small but significant way, alarm clocks may well have contributed their part to our culture of fear.
Waking Me Softly
There are, however, small islands of hope. Natural and gentle ways of awakening are available and gaining popularity. Intention is the most important ingredient in waking up peacefully. The less we want to get up, the more difficult it will be. But clanging sirens are not the answer. Below are some less alarming possibilities.
Chime Clocks: These quiet, old-fashioned clocks move the sleeper into wakefulness with a softer sound than an alarm buzzer.
Zen Clocks: Gentle Tibetan bell-like chimes strike once, then again 3-1/2 minutes later. The chimes become more frequent over 10 minutes, eventually striking every 5 seconds until you shut it off. They also come in a digital style and in a brass-bowl version with a series of subtle gongs.
Light, Sound, and Scents: This cutting-edge Peaceful Progression clock combines a gradual increase in ambient light, stimulating aromas, and sounds from nature to awaken sleepers. Thirty minutes before wake-up, the clock's light begins to glow softly, subtly brightening over the next half hour. As the light increases, the warmth from the lamp releases faint aromatherapy scents into the air to stimulate the olfactory senses. Fifteen minutes before wake-up time, the clock's speaker generates the sleeper’s choice of nature sounds.
Good Morning, Sunshine: Studies by the National Institutes of Health show that waking to light can help people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, certain forms of depression, and sleep disorders. This clock has a built-in light that fades in from zero to full intensity over selected time intervals.
Kids and Pets: For those of us fortunate to have young children or pets in the household, there is a ready-made wake-up service. The hugs of a toddler or nuzzling of a dog are preferable to electronic buzzing. Starting around age three, you might even enlist the child in the service of waking you. You can tell her to shake you gently or speak to you softly or even just to stand there looking at you. If you approach it as a game, the kids are in.
Morning Sounds: In the city or the country, the sounds of the morning world are those that you can anticipate and can help you to awaken softly. Consciously tune in to these. In the country, the birds are the first to welcome the day. And of course, if you live near a rooster, you have a built-in waker-upper. If you live in the city, the sounds of morning are legion—cars and buses rev up, neighbors slam doors, or someone upstairs starts the shower. Learn what these morning sounds are. Select those that are regular and expect them. These are the ones that can serve you daily.
Your Stereo: Most stereo systems can act as timers. Use the CD changer and pick a piece of music that is soothing. Picking a frantic percussion riff or heavy metal cut definitely defeats the purpose. Set the system for the time you want to wake up. Radios aren’t so great for this. We have no idea what’s going to be played. And waking to talk is disconcerting.
Your Inner Clock: Most of us are so conditioned to the clock that we don’t even need alarm clocks to wake up at a specific time. Here’s how to wean yourself from reliance on the clock.
- Tell yourself that you will wake up before the alarm. You can set your clock, but at bedtime, instruct yourself to wake up before it goes off.
- On a non-working day, try waking without an alarm at all. Just tell yourself that you are going to wake up at a certain time.
- Alternate days. Use an alarm clock every other day. Use your own inner alarm on the other day.
- Keep a record of how you feel on the alarm clock days vs. non-alarm clock days. Any connection between the alarm and getting up on the wrong or right side of the bed?
- Compare how well you remember your dreams on the alarm vs. no-alarm days. Is there any difference at all?