A Simple Sleep Hack to Wake up Feeling Better

The power of conditioning.

Sleep is much more interesting than what it initially seems. I stumbled across a Joe Rogan podcast featuring Matthew Walker who is all an expert in things related to sleepiness. I was blown away by how important, and yet severely underrated sleep is. His work has convinced me to prioritise getting an optimal amount of sleep every night. The effects sleep has on us are astounding, just Youtube a few of his talks and you’ll be left dumbfounded.

First step before we get into the interesting psychological side of waking up is the sleep calculator. I use a sleep calculator to figure out the most optimal time to wake up. Your body goes through sleep cycles, each cycle consists of 90 minutes which contain important stages that your body must go in order to feel rested. If you wake up naturally during the night, it will most likely be between one of your sleep cycles. You should be aiming to wake up in between one of these sleep cycles. If you’d like a good night’s sleep then you should give yourself 5 - 6 sleep cycles, so sleep for either 7.5 hours or 9 hours. There are apps that can calculate this for you, or you can do the maths in your head. If you REALLY want to get into it, then there’s plenty of technological equipment that can assist

The Psychological Hack

There is however, one trick that I figured out myself to waking up feeling a bit better. And it has to do with conditioning. Specifically Pavlovian, or classical conditioning. It’s basically what happens when an external stimuli is continually paired with an action and it creates a biological response. Watch this video if you’re unfamiliar with it.

Every time my alarm used to wake me up, even if I had slept a decent amount, it pained me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has woken up unsolicited by an annoying alarm. Over the years, the sound of my alarm, even the pattern that it vibrates in, slowly got associated with the negative feeling of being woken up. This is how the conditioning starts. Once, I heard my alarm go off during the day (probably because I accidentally set it) and then I felt a negative feeling in the pit of my stomach, “that’s bizarre” I thought. The next morning when my alarm went off I noticed that I had the same feeling that I felt during the previous day. That’s when I realised I had accidentally conditioned myself to feel negative feelings whenever I heard my alarm. Regardless of whether or not I was asleep, tired or in a bad mood, it would elicit these negative feelings either way.

I decided to switch it up.

I removed the vibrate, and changed the alarm to a sound I had not heard before. The next morning when it went off I woke up feeling amazing. What I regularly do now is change my alarm every day so that I’m getting woken up by a different sound each morning. Do note, that the vibrate has to be removed as sometimes the vibration itself is what wakes us up before the noise of the alarm.

It won’t work all the time obviously. You can still wake up feeling crappy due to a lack of sleep or bad quality sleep. But you won’t feel extra bad due to the conditioning that you’ve subjected yourself to. Try it yourself, (preferably with one that eases into the sound, starts quieter and gets louder) see how it goes!

An extra experience with conditioning

I had a close relationship with a girl a few years back who had some problems and was going through a bad patch in her life. I was there for her during her tough times but it was difficult for both of us. We texted quite a lot and I didn’t realise how bad she made me feel until a few months after we grew apart. I upgraded my phone and gave my old one to my friend. It must have been at least 6 months or so since I had the phone, but we were hanging out and he received a text. The text tone was specific to that phone, it was just a beep, but it was a unique type of beep. When I heard the beep I immediately felt an anxious feeling overwhelm me. It was horrible and I didn’t understand why. It was sometime that I later managed to it figure out. Obviously the constant back and forth texting and the stuff that was being said (not abusive, but just anxiety inducing) was being linked to the text tone. It was so strong that it unconsciously stuck with me months after I had heard it.

This is the power of conditioning.