Emmie Hughes isn’t great at waking up.
During high school, her body got used to early mornings. But once she graduated, all bets were off and Hughes started sleeping through her alarms. She moved out of her family’s home, so her parents are no longer a last line of defense against the 21-year-old’s distinct snooziness, she said. And a period of unemployment during the pandemic made things worse as her schedule shifted from day-to-day.
She tried relying on her Apple Watch, but the vibrations didn’t wake her up. Then she bought an alarm that promised to be loud enough to rouse deep sleepers — it woke up her roommates.
Finally, Hughes woke up one day around 2 p.m. and realized she had slept through not only the 10 a.m. shift she’d picked up from a co-worker at her retail job, but her own 1 p.m. shift as well. So she decided to shell out the big bucks to start electric-shocking herself in the mornings — but only a little bit.
Her instrument of choice is called the Pavlok Shock Clock, as she explains in a viral TikTok video. It’s a $149.99 bracelet that can administer a mild shock. Over time, it’s supposed to train deep sleepers to wake up to sound or vibration alone. Her hopes for easier mornings are high, she said. But reception to her story has been mixed.
“There were a lot of people on TikTok being like, ‘No one should need this to wake up. Something is clearly wrong with you,’” Hughes said. “I was like, ‘I know that.’”
Or maybe she just needed the right wake-up call. Sleep is more individual than traditional wisdom suggests, according to Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, an associate research professor of psychiatry and sleep medicine at Stanford University. During the pandemic, many of us shifted to sleep schedules that better suit us, he said. Now, we’re struggling to adjust to our employer’s schedules — and never is it more obvious than when that alarm first sounds.
Some people are “good sleepers,” Zeitzer said. They sleep enough hours on a regular schedule that fits their biology. But the rest of us might experience something called sleep inertia, which means even after we wake up, some parts of our brains are still dozing. That makes it really hard to spring out of bed, and the best way to combat it depends entirely on who you are, he said. Our age, habits, likes and dislikes all influence what we need to wake up effectively, be it light exposure, jumping jacks or a dose of good old-fashioned fear.
After a Washington Post reader wrote in asking for help finding a wake-up call that works for him, I tested a number of alarm apps and gadgets under $50. There’s no one-size-fits-all fix, but here’s what you’ve got at your disposal.