The Art of Waking Up

One of my biggest fears of travelling alone is the fear of the alarm clock malfunctioning, or a dropped morning call, leading to a missed early bus or flight. Day to day, I know I’m awake by a certain time, irrespective of the presence of a ringing alarm clock or a bed partner or the cries of the neighbour’s baby. Still the alarm clock is set, like a safety net, just in case I happily snooze till noon to wake up and find that I missed a whole morning’s action. That this rarely ever happens should be statistical proof that such worries are unfounded. Yet, the alarm device is always set by default before I go to sleep.

There is so much focus on getting a good night’s sleep that we often forget that waking up is an art too. In a recent conversation, a friend and I discussed the downsides of being suddenly jolted awake by a blaring alarm. The effect of a violent jolt is sometimes described as “sleep inertia” – the feeling of grogginess immediately after an abrupt awakening. If we aim to ease into sleep comfortably, it simply doesn’t make sense to be woken up abruptly. At a meditation workshop I attended last year, one point as I understood it was to cultivate awareness starting from the moment when one is awake. If I were to take that understanding further with the goal of cultivating a good quality of mind, in that moment of waking up, as streams of thoughts start to trickle in on autopilot mode, the aftershocks of a violent alarm ring are unnecessary extras in a blurry cluttered mind.

My temporary solution to counter the jolt effect of the alarm is to set the alarm tone to the dreamy sounds of Debussy’s Reflets dan l’eau. Still, it isn’t a long term remedy to weaning off the alarm device. More importantly it isn’t the antidote to the latent anxieties associated with the fear of oversleeping.

Apart from sounds, lighting affects how one wakes up too. This is hardly a statement of sleep medicine but more of being in awe of the impressive cabin mood lighting on a Qatar Airways flight: from functional lighting to cool sexy shades of purple that lull one to sleep. When it’s time to wake up, the light gradually comes on then radiating into full glow. On the control monitor for the lighting, there is a function called “wake up”. How cool. Or is it?

Nature has already blessed us with a “wake up” lighting function – sun rise. Some studies have shown that if we synchronise our sleep more closely to the natural lighting patterns, it would be much easier to wake up. Living near the equator means the sun rises more or less the same time every day of the year. So if we create an environment in which we can wake up to the regular sun, we could wake up at a regular time everyday and the internal body clock is thus set. As I like to wake up with sun rise, travelling in a temperate country during summer means I get up very early in the morning. The chirping birds or lack thereof tells me how the weather will be, and I will get to have morning quiet to myself before the rest of the world wakes up.

I Iike waking up with the whole day stretched out ahead of me, with no place to rush to or tasks to complete in a hurry. The true realisation then is to find a way to wake up feeling like that every day, irrespective of whether there is indeed a place to rush to or tasks to complete in a hurry. I hope I have found my answer to the art of waking up.



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