You Snooze, You Lose

Mia Maalouf , Columnist and General Assignment Reporter

Have you ever awakened with a start, thinking you’ve slept through your alarm, only to find out it hasn’t gone off yet? There’s still a couple minutes left, but it’s too late now to go back to sleep and you’re forced to get out of bed early. Why does this occur? Is it because you feel truly rested? Or is your internal clock just that good?

Believe it or not, each one of us has our own personal alarm clock that is regulated by a protein called PERIOD or PER. Fluctuations in the level of PER happen throughout the day and help distinguish between ‘sleep’ and ‘awake’ times. PER levels peak in the evening and drop at night. When PER levels decrease, your heart rate slows down, blood pressure drops, and you start thinking more slowly; essentially, you get tired. 

If you maintain a constant sleep schedule by waking up and going to bed at around the same time, PER levels will be able to adjust themselves accordingly. Over time, PER will recognize when it should increase and typically starts to do so an hour before your alarm clock goes off. Once the levels are high enough, the PER protein signals the release of hormones like cortisol that will cause your body to wake up. In this way, the wake-up process is gradual. Instead of experiencing a literal rude awakening, you’re able to calmly flutter your eyes open. 

So, your body prefers being naturally awakened by PER as opposed to a blaring alarm clock sound. By having a constant sleep pattern, you’ve essentially programmed your body to recognize when you wake up just so it can avoid the alarm clock. Go you!

But how do you actually achieve a constant sleep schedule? It takes commitment, but it is not impossible to fix the way that you sleep. Here are four tips to readjust your schedule:  

1) Choose a time to go to bed and to wake up. Even if you’re only going to get 5 hours of sleep (which is not recommended), by setting these time ‘boundaries’ your body will be able to naturally regulate itself using PER, allowing you to have a restful sleep and a peaceful awakening. 

2) Exercise. Exercise helps you sleep better at night. Just 30 minutes of daily movement can increase the amount of slow wave sleep (or deep sleep) one experiences. Some suggestions are yoga, an outdoor walk, or a HIIT workout on YouTube. 

3) Prepare yourself for bedtime. An hour before you plan to go to sleep, schedule a routine that places your body into resting mode. You can read a book, drink some warm milk, or meditate. This will help you fall asleep more easily. Avoid going on your phone! 

4) If you’re having trouble falling asleep, or are constantly waking up in the middle of the night, do not check the time. That will just cause stress. Your body will respond to the stress by releasing hormones like cortisol which in turn, keep you awake (remember, cortisol is used by PER to wake you up). Just close your eyes and sleep will come. 

Next time you wake up before your alarm clock, don’t blame your body for cheating you out of a couple extra minutes of sleep. Instead, thank it for understanding your sleep pattern so well and for trying to allow you a peaceful morning.