This survey will make you wish you were a natural riser.

By Real Simple
January 24, 2020
woman stopping alarm
Credit: Manop Phimsit / EyeEm / Getty Images

Some lucky people don't need an alarm to help them surface from deep morning sleep. These special morning people wake up naturally, maybe with the light at 5:30 a.m. or maybe through a reliable body clock that's somehow ready to roll at 8:15 a.m. on the dot.

For others, the concept of being able to wake on their own every day, at the same reasonable hour—an hour early enough to show up for daily responsibilities—is completely foreign, even unfathomable. For these folks, an alarm is a necessary evil, at least during the week—and waking naturally in time for work, the gym, or the kids' school bus is simply out of the question.

But is one way to wake better than the other? A comprehensive survey by sleep health content blog Each Night analyzed responses from 1,040 participants to find out how their respective methods of waking up (naturally versus by an alarm) might influence their lifestyle, including everything from mood to food choices. The short version: While the survey results don't prove causality in any scientific sense, they do suggest, at least anecdotally, that natural risers seem to have a leg up in many areas.

Of the respondents, only 20 percent said they usually rise naturally in the mornings, while the majority (80 percent) used some form of alarm, be it a phone alarm, sleep tracker alarm, or helpful member of their household. Working baby boomers were twice as likely to wake naturally than working millennials, and remote employees were twice as likely to wake naturally than office employees. And overall, the lifestyle benefits that early risers experience are pretty impressive.

They tend to feel more rested throughout the day.

When asked how well-rested they feel over the course of the day, respondents who wake up without an alarm were by far the best rested of the bunch. Natural risers were 10 percent more likely to feel well-rested during the day than participants who use an alarm to wake up. They also report taking less time to feel truly awake than people who need an alarm. This is likely due to a phenomenon called sleep inertia, which is essentially the residual grogginess you feel a few minutes to a few hours after waking. It makes sense that, compared to being woken organically, being roused from sleep artificially might make the body and brain take longer to feel truly awake and alert, since they clearly weren't ready to wake up yet.

They report a better overall mood and outlook.

Who reports having higher self-confidence, more positive moods, better motivation to be active, and gets the most out of their day? All signs point to natural risers. Even when the difference between early risers' and alarm users' answers was marginal, natural risers still came up first. For example, 80 percent of natural risers said they feel positive toward others, while 76 percent of alarm users said the same.

They make healthier choices more often.

People who don't need assistance to wake up were also the most likely to eat a healthy, wholesome breakfast—64 percent, compared to the only 48 percent of phone alarm users. This may be as much about having more time for a healthy breakfast as it is about their capacity to make healthy choices. Natural risers also report exercising for more time each week than those who get up with an alarm.

They're more likely to be motivated and productive employees.

When it comes to work, people who wake on their own were the least likely to show up late to the office—11 days fewer per year than alarm users. While at work, they tend to feel more focused, motivated, and clearheaded during the day, while people who use an alarm were more likely to miss deadlines and be reprimanded by a superior for slacking.

All that said, while it's possible to try to train yourself to be a morning person, and even eventually to become someone who rises early without an external alarm, it's not something to beat yourself up about. As long as you're getting your recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye, it's probably not productive to sweat your personal wakeup method. Natural risers are often hardwired that way, making them a rare and fortunate breed of early birds.


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