The Danger of Snooze Buttons

 Posted by on 21 July 2006 at 7:20 am  Uncategorized
Jul 212006

A few months ago, Paul pointed me to this interesting post by Steve Pavlina on how to get up right away when your alarm goes off. His discussion of the basic problem of the standard approach — willpower and commitment — is basically right, I think:

First, let’s consider the way most people tackle this problem — what I consider the wrong way.

The wrong way is to try using your conscious willpower to get yourself out of bed each morning. That might work every once in a while, but let’s face it — you’re not always going to be thinking straight the moment your alarm goes off. Your may experience what I call the fog of brain. The decisions you make in that state won’t necessarily be the ones you’d make when you’re fully conscious and alert. You can’t really trust yourself… nor should you.

If you use this approach, you’re likely to fall into a trap. You decide to get up at a certain time in advance, but then you undo that decision when the alarm goes off. At 10pm you decide it would be a good idea to get up at 5am. But at 5am you decide it would be a better idea to get up at 8am. But let’s face it — you know the 10pm decision is the one you really want implemented… if only you could get your 5am self to go along with it.

Now some people, upon encountering this conundrum, will conclude that they simply need more discipline. And that’s actually somewhat true, but not in the way you’d expect. If you want to get up at 5am, you don’t need more discipline at 5am. You don’t need better self-talk. You don’t need two or three alarm clocks scattered around the room. And you don’t need an advanced alarm that includes technology from NASA’s astronaut toilets.

You actually need more discipline when you’re fully awake and conscious: the discipline to know that you can’t trust yourself to make intelligent, conscious decisions the moment you first wake up. You need the discipline to accept that you’re not going to make the right call at 5am. Your 5am coach is no good, so you need to fire him.

To put the points in Objectivist terms: When you first wake up in the morning, particularly in response to an unexpected alarm, you are not even remotely in focus. Consequently, you cannot consider your agenda for the day, including the importance and consequences of failing to rouse yourself at this painful hour. If you haven’t slept enough, your consciousness is probably entirely consumed by the unpleasant feelings of desperately wanting to sleep more. Moreover, focusing your mind enough to remember and examine the purpose of waking up now rather than later requires effort — and that’s hard to do under such circumstances. So you’re liable to simply groggily half-think that nothing could have warranted such pain — and return to the to-be-regretted bliss of sleep.

I do like Steve Pavlina’s suggestion for overcoming this problem, namely that of automatizing a happy and well-rested wake-up. (He offers specific instructions.) And I might follow his plan, particularly since I’m going to be waking up at some obscene hour like 5:30 am twice a week next semester to teach an 8:00 am ethics course at Boulder. However, I should at least mention my own alternative, developed while in high school.

If my alarm clock is within reach on my nightstand, I will turn it off immediately, often without any memory of doing so. After too many late mornings, I realized that moving my alarm across the room would allow me to be awake enough by the time I reached it to rouse myself into full wakefulness. That does work quite well. When I hear the buzz of the alarm clock, I leap out of bed to turn off the offending noise. After about three seconds and four steps across the room, I’m far more capable of thinking. It also helps that I’m no longer enveloped in the snuggly warmth of the covers. Although I’ll sometimes hit the snooze, I can exercise semi-reasonable judgment in doing so. That’s good. However, more extreme measures might be required this upcoming semester!

Update: Steve Pavlina has also written two posts on how to become an early riser, as well as on his own experiment with polyphasic sleep. (I’ve been intrigued by polyphasic sleep ever since I first heard about it a few years ago, but I just don’t have the time required to adjust to it — at least not right now.)

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha