Waking up BEFORE the alarm goes off?

How does this happen?

When I used the “alarm” feature of my clock/radio, no matter what time it was set for, I would estimate that 9 times out of 10, I woke up a minute before the horrible blaring obnoxious alarm actually went off.

Now that we use the stereo timer to wake us up with the soothing sounds of a Classic Rock station, I don’t wake up until the stereo comes on.

Could it be that the sound of my alarm was so heinous that my subconscious wanted to avoid hearing it?!? How did my mind know what time it was?

Just curious …


I think this is just one power humans have, sort of like birds being able to navigate migration routes. I do this even on weekends when I don’t want to. My ability in this regard was heightened after I took melatonin 4 years ago to combat jet lag. Ever since, I wake up a minute before the alarm clock.

I think some alarm clocks have a circuit, or switch, inside that trips in the minute before the alarm is set to go off. A signal or trigger that basically says, “OK, that was the last regular minute change for now. Next time we start the horrible screeching noise.” The noise of this switch is what wakes you up one minute before.

Obviously this depends on the individual clock, which could explain why it happened to you before and isn’t happening now. I also have had the “one minute before” syndrome with previous alarm clocks, but not with my current one.

If I go to bed around midnight or earlier, I will wake up at 4:37 AM every day, without exception, unless I’m incredibly exhausted. Won’t be able to fall back asleep, either.

This happens to me if I have a consistent wake-up time for a few weeks in a row. Otherwise, never.

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. - Cecil’s take on the matter

I’ll bet the “click effect” isn’t the operative factor here.
That column was written years ago, when people actually had mechanical or electric (motor-driven) clocks.
I distinctly remember having a few really cool clocks with odomoter-style numbers that did have a noticable faint click as some nub of plastic brushed gently against the alarm switch inside.

These days, I can’t imagine that a digital clock does so – it’d be easy enough to test: just set the alarm for a few minutes from now and see.

You wake up early in order to turn off the alarm before it goes off, thereby permitting your SO to sleep a little longer in peace and quiet. One hopes that by doing so, one will be rewarded, if only by not being screamed at and having the alarm clock hurled at one. Such hopes and expectations are, by and large, in vain.

My alarm clock is completely digital. It makes no noise before it goes off. I still wake up before the alarm.

Yes, my clock is a digital one, and throughout the years I’ve gone through various clocks and had the same experience with all of them.

To me it’s interesting that even if the alarm is set for 6:15 one morning, and 6:30 the next morning, and 6:00 the morning after that - I still wake up just before it goes off.

**LouisB ** - hmmmm, I’ll have to ponder that theory. Or perhaps my SO should be turning off the damn STEREO so I can sleep a while longer … although it does give us extra a.m. cuddle time … :slight_smile:

Hmmm, contrary to the “wake up before” phenomenon, I experience the “never wake up” phenomenon. I have to change alarm tones or radio stations every couple weeks in order for them to wake me up. Otherwise, as I become accustomed to the sound, my mind simply ignores it.

Can you see the clock easily from your normal sleeping position? It’s possible that you rise to semi-consciousness many times before the alarm goes off, see that it’s not time to wake up yet, and go back ot sleep again. Later, you probably don’t remember the early awakenings.

Fortunately, I rarely have to use my alarm clock, but when I do, I also often wake up just before it goes off. But I know that I partially wake up many times in the early morning, so I attribute my pre-alarm waking to that phenomenon. I have clocks on both side of my bed and can see them just by opening my eyes from my most common sleeping positions.

My digital clock is set to play music rather than an alarm, but I experience the same phenomenon. My alarm is set for 6:21 AM every weekday. Almost every morning I wake up, put on my glasses, and look at my clock which almost always reads between 6:17 and 6:19. This always launches a mental debate on whether to just get up or “sleep” for 2-4 more minutes.

Oddly enough, on the weekends, I don’t wake up at the normal time, usually I’m only awakened by other people’s movement and even then, not till about 10 AM.

Nifty, i have the exact same thing happen. Doesn’t matter if the alarm is set for 8am, 730, or 830 i usually wake up 5 minutes or so before it. As a WAG maybe it has something to do with the fact that a radical jolt in the middle of deep sleep can leave you lethargic the rest of the day.

If i didn’t get enough sleep this doesn’t happen but if i get 7 or more hours by the time the alarm is set to go off i wake up before it goes off.

I was surprised no one WAGged that our body clock had anything to do with it.

I mean, I would think that any habit can be trained… even changing states of consciousnes… Perhaps Pavlov should have let the sleeping dog lie…

I’ve known people to simply just ‘know’ what time it is when ever you ask them- unaided, with in 5 minutes. In some cases, I would also WAG that this helps the phenom.

Personally, I wake about 4 minutes before my clock goes off. Alwats debate if I should squeeze a nap in, and hit the pillow before I draw a conclusion.

This happens to me all the time. I can, in fact, wake up at pretty much any time I want without aid of an alarm clock (now, actually getting up is an entirely different story).
I really don’t think it has to do with any weird ghosts in your alarm clock. It’s much more likely to be a form of mild self-hypnosis. When you go to bed, you subconsciously are aware of the time you’re supposed to wake up. This creates a sort of “anxiety” that stays in your mind while sleeping. Your internal clock is actually extremely accurate, and this ever-present anxiety is enough to trip it off at the right time.

I do that all the time. As a lazy college student, I tend to schedule my classes in the afternoon or at least late in the morning, thereby letting me sleep in somewhat late. However, the administration often foils my plans by scheduling my final exams at 8 am. That’s when I actually have to set my alarm to wake me up early. But, without fail, every single time, on the morning of the exam I’ll wake up before the alarm goes off. I guess since sleeping through an exam time is the worst thing that could possibly happen, I scare my subconscious into setting my own biological alarm clock. It’s rather convenient, actually.


I was thinking the same thing. The OP and the others should test this by turning the clock’s face away before going to bed.
I can’t see my alarm clock in the dark (which is part of my optimal and usual sleeping environment), and I never wake up before it goes off. Sometimes not even after :wink:

I think there’s probably something in this. That might explain the sleeping in at the weekend thing too. You haven’t set your alarm so you can sleep soundly knowing you don’t have to get up at any particular time. I also find that the more important it is to get up with your alarm the more likely you are to wake up beforehand. I certainly get the anxiety thing and before exams or important appointments or early flights etc. I always wake up several times in the last half hour before the alarm goes off.