man waking up without an alarm refreshed

How to Wake Up without an Alarm (and Why You Should), According to Sleep Experts

Loud alarms trigger your stress response first thing in the morning. Wake up like this instead.

10-Second Takeaway

Waking up with an alarm is considered a “forced awakening”. Loud alarms jolt your body awake, triggering your stress response and increasing adrenaline levels. Instead, research suggests waking naturally by balancing your circadian rhythm and optimizing your sleep routine.

Not only does it cut off your best dreams, waking up to a loud alarm is shown to have some harmful health effects, too. Professor, author, speaker, and sleep king Matthew Walker has filled in hundreds of blanks with his research on sleep and the human experience. And waking up to a loud alarm is one of them. We dug into the current research to find out what’s going on with the morning buzzer. We also collected some of the best ways to adjust your lifestyle to wake up on time without one.

Our Experience

Hone Health is a team of health-obsessed journalists, editors, fitness junkies, medical reviewers, and product testers. We sourced the latest research about healthy sleeping habits and backed our findings with insight from a sleep neurologist and a psychologist. We also turned off our alarm and put this natural waking theory to the test. Here’s what you need to know.

About the Experts:

Dr. Willam Winter is a sleep medicine and neurology expert, the owner of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine clinic, and author of two books—The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It and The Rested Child: Why Your Tired, Wired, or Irritable Child May Have a Sleep Disorder—and How to Help.

Dr. Shelby Harris is a licensed clinical psychologist, a clinical associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and the director of sleep at Sleepopolis. 

Is It Bad to Wake Up with an Alarm?

Induces the stress response

Besides interrupting dreams, waking up to an alarm disrupts the cardiovascular and nervous systems at the start of the day. Matthew Walker refers to waking up with an alarm as “assaulting your cardiovascular system” over and over again for days, weeks, and years. 

The idea goes that a loud alarm in the morning triggers your stress response, increases adrenaline levels (stress chemicals), and shocks you into waking up. Next time you wake up to an alarm, take notice. Do you suddenly feel a rise in body temperature? Has your heart rate increased? “[Alarms] are so abrasive that some fire stations have even started using softer, less abrupt alarms,” says sleep neurologist Dr. Willam Winter.  

Sleep inertia

“Forced awakening can also increase sleep inertia and lead to high blood pressure and an elevated heart rate,” says Shelby Harris, PsyD, director of sleep health at Sleepopolis.

Sleep inertia happens after bolting out of bed and can cause drowsy, slow, and disorienting feelings. There’s also a psychological element to sleep inertia, making you feel moody in the morning (1). And who needs that?

Why wake up without an alarm

Sleep hackers are throwing the alarm clock out the window. “Waking up without an alarm can reduce sleep inertia and is also beneficial in improving your mood and sleep quality, as well as symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), insomnia, and jet lag,” says Dr. Winter.

Studies have found that those who rely on self-awakening (not using an alarm clock) reported more satisfaction with their sleep in general, higher levels of conscientiousness and openness, and a much greater likelihood of being a morning person (2). Here are some tips on how to wake up naturally.

Can you wake up on time without an alarm?

The answer is kind of. “It is possible to wake up on time without an alarm, but there are no guarantees that you will definitely wake up at the time you would like,” says Dr. Harris. You might already wake naturally, especially with a consistent work schedule. But Dr. Winter jokes, “I would have a hard time trusting that instinct before an early flight.” 

How to Wake Up Without an Alarm

Here’s the thing: it’s not going to happen overnight. Waking naturally is a slow habit that can be formed gradually over time. Consistency is key and may be used situationally, as Dr. Winter noted. Until you’re confident in your new natural sleep/wake, “gentle alarm clocks are designed to wake you up more gradually with light, soft sounds, or a combination of both,” advises Dr. Harris.

Calculate how much sleep you need

The key to waking up without an alarm is first establishing how much sleep you need each night. “The best time to wake up is during the lightest stage of sleep, which comes at different times for different people,” says Dr. Harris. Are you closer to 7 hours a night, or are you more of a solid 9-hour person? Experiment, if needed. I know I’m a 9-hour girlie, more so if things during waking hours are hectic.

Figure out a bedtime 

What used to make us groan as kids is now a welcome deadline. “Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is important to maintain your circadian rhythm,” says Dr. Harris. Reminder: a circadian rhythm is the body’s natural 24-hour cycle of mental, behavioral, and physical changes. It’s what makes us feel alert in the daytime and sleepy at night (3). “Improving your sleep hygiene and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule will help to synchronize your circadian rhythm, which will lead to better sleep long-term and an overall better quality of life,” says Dr. Harris. So, for consistency, I set my bedtime for 11 pm, aiming to wake up at 8 am.

things to do to wake up without an alarm in list form

Stay consistent (even on the weekends)

“The biggest key is to make sure you have adequate sleep. Because sleep deprivation might increase your drive to sleep and make it more likely to oversleep,” says Dr. Winters This means keeping a similar schedule even on weekends. It was a bit of a challenge for me. I still have to firm up some willpower on Friday and Saturday nights. Not because I’m out at wild parties; mostly, I just want to stay up late and watch Schitts Creek after a long week.

Establish a nighttime routine

“Once you know how much sleep you need, you should establish a relaxing nighttime routine that you can do 30 to 60 minutes before bed to help quiet the day for your body and brain,” says Dr. Harris. This includes turning off screens, dimming the lights, and maybe reading or meditating. A consistent nightly routine helps bring the body to a state of rest and can help you create a natural sleep-wake schedule (4). I liked this mentality. Before, I’d set a bedtime and start getting ready around that time. Now I know I have to start my routine sooner.

Get 30 minutes of sunlight in the morning

To help secure your new sleep-wake routine, get some sun for about 30 minutes every morning. Studies show that “bright light exposure” helps rebalance your circadian rhythm (5). Of course, weather, location, and schedules can get in the way of this trick. Study participants found it time-consuming. It’s more of a means to shift your circadian rhythm, not a long-term suggestion. Sitting in the sun in the morning was quite relaxing, even for only 10 minutes. 

The Bottom Line

Science and sleep experts say waking up without an alarm is healthier for your brain, heart, and body. If you have a little wiggle room in your day-to-day schedule, it may be worth training your body to fall asleep and wake up without one. 

  1. CDC. NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours.
  2. Malloggi, S. et al (2021). Sleep and psychological characteristics in habitual self-awakeners and forced awakeners.
  3. Reddy, Sujana (2023). Physiology, Circadian Rhythm.
  4. McMahon, William R. (2020). The impact of structured sleep schedules prior to an in-laboratory study: Individual differences in sleep and circadian timing.
  5. Crowley, Stephanie J. (2015). Phase advancing human circadian rhythms with morning bright light, afternoon melatonin, and gradually shifted sleep: can we reduce morning bright light duration?