I only set my alarm clock when I need to get up earlier than usual. And even then, I rarely need it, but it’s there as a backup.
This is worthwhile because it acts as a powerful forcing function for getting enough sleep: I can’t afford to stay up later than usual, because if I do, I know there’s some risk of oversleeping–and this knowledge makes me go to bed so I don’t oversleep. (But really, the risk of oversleeping is very low once you’re accustomed to waking up naturally!)
There are other benefits too:
- I get tired and wake up at the same time every day, including on weekends
- I know how much sleep I need to be functional (just over 7 hours), and get it every single day, and am never sleep deprived
- I avoid an unpleasant experience every day that I used to have: jolting awake to an alarm and then racing to turn it off before it wakes somebody else
- Instead, I usually have a pleasant experience: waking up, checking the clock, finding that it is hours earlier than I needed to be up, and getting excited about having time to myself in the morning.
Keeping a schedule without an alarm works because you really do need a consistent amount of sleep per night, and once your body is getting it consistently, it “wants” (due to the melatonin cycle) to go to bed and wake up naturally at the same time every day. I think a lot of people don’t trust the melatonin cycle – understandably, because when they “sleep in” on weekends, they sleep a lot more hours than on weekdays, and so they conclude that they need an alarm to get up at a reasonable hour. I respond to that with: “you don’t trust your body because you are sleep depriving it, so of course it’s taking every opportunity it gets to sleep”.
For most people, it shouldn’t be hard to train yourself out of needing an alarm clock to wake up reliably. Unfortunately, I don’t know what specific steps to recommend because it depends on your level of sleep debt. For example, it might take a few weeks of sleeping as much as you want without an alarm to settle on a consistent schedule. If you can afford to occasionally miss morning meetings then I would encourage you to jump right in–start on Friday night, go to bed 1-2 hours earlier than you normally would on a weekday, and then once Monday comes around, keep the same schedule.
I don’t recommend setting “backup alarms” regularly, especially not while adapting. You can set them once or twice a week as necessary to avoid missing important meetings, but I find that they quickly become a crutch – I wake up but stay in bed longer knowing that I have the backup alarm set. And since I stayed in bed longer, I don’t get tired at the correct time, etc.
When adapting to jet lag, alarms are often still helpful. I often set my alarm to wake me up at my target time for the first few days after I arrive, and I continue to supplement melatonin and control caffeine intake as well. But it only takes a few days to adapt and after that I can wake reliably without alarms in the new time zone (in fact sometimes I can start on day one if the new timezone is waking me up earlier!)