An exploration of sleep and insomnia, with a single destination in mind:
a good night's sleep.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Are You a Midnight Clock Watcher?

by Bill Adler

Is it better to look at the clock when you wake up in the middle of the night or not know what time it is?

Photo by Rob and Stephanie Levy.
 Licensed under Creative Commons.
There are two diametrically opposed views on this subject. One group of sleepers must know what time it is. When these people wake up before their alarm signals morning, they have to look at their clock. Not knowing the time causes anxiety, which breeds more insomnia: Is it 6:25 AM? Do I have only 25 more minutes to slumber? Or is it 3:35 AM and I have nearly 3-1/2 hour of blissful coma remaining? There's a world of difference between waking up just a little before your alarm versus in the dead of night. Have I slept through my alarm? Some people have to know, because without that information the stress center of their brain goes into overdrive.

For others, ignorance is indeed bliss. Even a quick glance at the clock destroys the illusion of sleep. "It's 5 AM in the real world" summons the real world, which kills sleep. For people who don't want to look at the clock, it's important to maintain the illusion of sleep when they wake up. If you realize that you have 4 hours left, you might be happy. But if you see only one hour remaining, despair becomes your sleeping partner.

Which is better? To look at the clock or not? There's no scientific evidence that either is better. (There is a some anecdotal evidence that not looking at a clock helps you fall back asleep, but anecdotes are not science.) One blogger who changed from a clock watcher to a non-watcher writes, "It didn’t matter what time I woke up, I could tell myself that by not 'really' knowing the time, I had all the time in the world to sleep. There was no pressure of an impending wake up deadline. I became a happy sleeper."

Looking or not looking is a personal preference, with two but's. First, if you are a middle of the night clock looker, use a clock that doesn't use a blue-LED light, which can reduce your body's ability to produce melatonin, and make it harder to sleep. Second, if you're a midnight clock watcher because you're worried that you might have slept --or will sleep-- through your alarm, set two alarms, or use a wake up service. Worry --any kind of worry-- is a drag on sleep.

As with many sleep solutions, choose what works best for you.

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