The best alarm clocks and apps for heavy sleepers

Emmie Hughes is not good at waking up.

In high school, her body got used to the early mornings. But once she graduated, all bets were off and Hughes started sleeping through her alarms. She has 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 drowsiness, she said. And a spell of unemployment during the pandemic made matters worse as his schedule shifted from day to day.

She tried to rely on her Apple Watch, but the vibrations didn’t wake her. Then she bought an alarm that promised to be loud enough to wake up deep sleepers – it woke up her roommates.

Finally, Hughes woke up one day around 2 p.m. and realized that she had not only slept through the 10 a.m. shift she picked up from a co-worker at her retail job, but also during his own 1 p.m. shift. So she decided to shell out a lot of money to start electrocuting herself in the morning, but only a little.

Her go-to instrument is called the Pavlok Shock Clock, as she explains in a viral TikTok video. It’s a $149.99 wristband that can deliver a mild shock. Over time, it is believed to train deep sleepers to wake only to sounds or vibrations. Her hopes for easier mornings are high, she says. But reception to her story has been mixed.

“There were a lot of people on TikTok saying, ‘Nobody should need this to wake up to. Something’s clearly wrong with you,'” Hughes said. “I was like, ‘I know that.’ “

Or maybe she just needed the right alarm clock. Sleep is more individual than traditional wisdom suggests, according to Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, research associate professor of psychiatry and sleep medicine at Stanford University. During the pandemic, many of us have adopted sleep schedules that suit us better, he said. Now, we’re having a hard time adjusting to our employer’s schedules – and it’s never more apparent than when that alarm goes off for the first time.

Some people are “good sleepers,” Zeitzer said. They get enough hours of sleep on a regular schedule that matches their biology. But the rest of us might experience something called sleep inertia, which means that even after we wake up, parts of our brains are still sleepy. It makes it very difficult to get 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, whether it’s light exposure, jumping jacks or a good dose of scare at the old one.

After a Washington Post reader wrote in asking for help finding a wake-up call that works for him, I tested a number of sub-$50 alarm apps and gadgets. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but here’s what you have at your disposal.

Lance B. Holton