Waking up: looking at my data

Whenever I manage to wake up early a few days in a row, I feel great about it. But I don’t do it consistently. I spend a couple of days waking up before 6 AM and enjoying a good spurt of writing, and then I find myself slipping back into later bedtimes and later wake-up times (~ 7 AM) or hitting the snooze. Clearly there are some things I still need to tweak about my system.

Time-tracking means I’ve got a way to see what my current sleep patterns are like:


  • Average sleep length when waking up before 6 AM: 7:09
  • Average sleep length when waking up after 6 AM: 8:47
  • Average sleep time for wake-up times before 6 AM: 9:45 PM, which is a bit of a stretch but is doable.

Here are the questions I’m thinking about:

  • Is it a matter of getting to bed earlier?
  • Would it help to disable snooze entirely?
  • Is it a matter of setting my alarm clock even earlier? (Ex: Set it for 4 AM so that I eventually get out of bed at 5 AM.)
  • Would it help to set our programmable thermostat warmer in the morning, or promise myself a hot cup of tea when I get up?
  • Would it help to set my snooze interval to 5 minutes instead of 10?
  • How about if I find a way to turn my Android into a light clock? (Using Tasker to bring up a bright app, maybe…)
  • What if I give up on waking up early and instead shift to more of a night owl schedule? Advantage: can sync up with W-. I’ll need to figure out how to give my personal pursuits the creative energy they need, though.

Hmm. More things to hack…

  • Brendon Robinson

    One observation that I have often made is that hitting snooze seems desirable when I first wake up, but silly in retrospect once I am up. Putting my alarm farther away has given me more opportunity to “wake up” before I can hit snooze. In my case, I put the alarm as far away from the bed as is practical (in my case, at the far end of the kitchen). I still keep another alarm in the bedroom set for the same time so that I am sure not to miss the quieter-due-to-distance alarm in the kitchen.

    I also find that laying out things I need for my morning routine before I go to bed reduces the activation energy to get my day started.

    I hope these tips help you!

  • Brendon: Yes, when I had a cellphone alarm more than an arms-length away from the bed, my wake-up abilities improved dramatically. I should go and try that again. Embarrassment and concern for interrupting my husband’s sleep are great reasons for waking up and getting out of bed, even if it’s quite cold. =)

    Likewise, I’m with you on the lay-out-clothes-and-pack-bags-the-night-before tip. =D I wonder if I should do a second alarm in the kitchen (which is downstairs from the bedroom) just because knowing that there’s another alarm that’s going to go off will be good for getting me out of bed too…

  • Eric Hanchrow

    Do you have some nifty automated way to record when you wake up and go to bed? (Knowing you, it’s probably an emacs mode :-)

  • Eric: Time Recording on my Android phone. =) Mostly remember to do it.

  • I’ve been tracking my sleep too, and I think I already have over a month’s worth of data. I’ll be processing this soon so I can try to find out things. I’ll try your graph here too. Do you have any suggestions on how to process the data?

    I’ve tried that tactic, putting the cellphone alarm very far away that it requires me to get off the bed to turn it off. The additional incentive of not waking up my husband and daughter helped me really wake up much more quickly. Lately though I’ve been going into sleep debt and I end up getting up to snooze the alarm and take the cellphone back to bed! I suspect I just need to catch up on sleep to get back into the swing of things.

  • jen

    have you tried timing when you wake up based on sleep cycles? i was sent this website: http://sleepyti.me/ recently by a friend and realized i was thinking about sleep and waking up all the wrong way. now i try to force myself to get out of bed if i wake up before my alarm even if it is earlier than planned and seem to feel more awake than i usually do when i get woken up by an alarm.

  • Patricia: My time-tracking program gives me two steps of timestamps (ex: 23:30 – 23:59, 00:00 – 7:03), so it took a little fiddling to get it to give me proper start and end times. My Sleep Bot is another Android app that keeps better time, but it’s less generally useful.

    Jen: I’ve thought a little about that, and have experimented with things like Gentle Alarm as well. I usually don’t get up before I need to unless it’s to go to the bathroom. I’ll add that to my list of things to try again.

    Hacking this isn’t super-important, so I probably won’t get any fancy gadgets (and they do have cool things for sleep) or switch to polyphasic sleep. (Yet. ;) ) I get decent sleep. I’m just curious about any small changes I can make to make this even better. =) Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Some studies suggest that being a night owl or an early riser are hard-coded in our brains. When are you more productive? Morning, afternoon or night? If it is not morning, getting up earlier won’t help a bit. If it is… then I’d suggest:

    Go to sleep when you feel like you should do it (tiredness)
    Wake up at a fixed time every day.
    Don’t overdo: don’t wake up at 4 AM!
    Take short naps when you feel you need them (I wrote a bash script to do power naps the way they are meant to be done, my inner geek is always proud when I fall asleep after lunch)
    Log your productivity, try to stay with the early riser regime for at least 2 weeks to have enough data points. You could start by logging your non-early-riser productivity for 2 weeks before doing it.

    Just my 0.02€ ;)

    PS: I’ve been playing with the comment preview, formatting the UL I posted. I hope it looks nice, if it doesn’t please delete the comment ;-) (this is what happens when you should be working in your thesis and you start browsing…)



    • <laugh> Yes, maybe I should stop fighting it and just embrace a possibly night-owl nature! Ah well. =) Interesting power nap idea – maybe I can find something that uses my Android’s accelerometer. I like working from home because short naps are easy to fit into my afternoon. I’m always quite refreshed afterwards, and sometimes I have new code running through my head.

      I’m actually most productive (in terms of creating or programming) in the morning, which is why I’m interested in shifting time around. I also tend to naturally wake up at 7 AM in the winter (earlier in summer). I’m probably keyed to daylight. Turning my bedside lamp on when I give in to the temptation to hit snooze helps a little. I haven’t decided whether a fancy sunlight clock is worth it, though. =) Hmm…

  • Wouldn’t a programmable plug and a simple lamp be cheaper than a sunlight clock? You turn on the lamp, plug it and set the timer in the plug to turn on 5 minutes (if possible) later than your alarm clock. I can’t sleep with light, so this would definitely wake me up, but I’m not a “snoozer”, anyway (but lately I’m feeling pretty tired and I still don’t know why).



    • That would be more flexible, too. I might try it if this sleep-later-wake-normally routine doesn’t work out. Thanks!

  • Chris Algozzine

    I agree with Ruben on the waking up at a fixed time every day. I’ve read a lot of studies and heard from some speakers at management/lleadership meetings that you should keep a routine for your sleeping pattern for optimal sleep & health benefits.

    My issue is having a spouse who does not believe in this practice, and constantly changes waking times to get as little as 15 or 30 additional (coveted) minutes of sleep if the daily schedule allows, so the alarm A on our clock is always a different time.

    Like you Sacha, I was being overly careful not to upset my spouse, and was setting alarm B on our clock 5-10 minutes after alarm A for years! Well, I finally discussed it with them, and got “permission” to set alarm B to 6:00am every day … including the weekends. It’s been helping me a lot. Even days when I don’t have to be at work or don’t have anything particular to do, it’s great to be up at a regular time and get on with my day.


  • I seem to be keeping a natural routine (most wakeups between 7 and 8), and I’m going to try being stricter about the wake-up time.

    W- and I are both good-natured and there is no upsetting him about something as small as this. =) He sets his alarm for 7 AM and occasionally wakes up quite a bit before that, although sometimes he sleeps in after working late. I’m the one experimenting with my sleep cycle to figure out what works. =) Onward and upward!

  • Gildas

    Considering sleep hacks, I hope not to be the first one mentionning polyphasic sleep ?

  • My current schedule isn’t conducive to polyphasic sleep, but perhaps I’ll try it someday!

  • Magnus

    How about shifting the bedtime axis 12 hours to get the datapoints that are close also close in the graph? Then you could also zoom in and let the data take more space. I would for example let the bedtime axis go from 6pm to 6am instead of from midnight to midnight.