Robin Camille Davis
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Using the Internet of Things to wake up in the morning

September 23, 2014

When I was a kid, my mom would wake me up by setting our tiny dog loose on my bed and playing the fake-attack-Robin game. I'd reenter to the world with tiny paws pattering all over my belly and cheerful little barks. It was an awesome way to start my day.

Fast forward twenty years, and it's hard to make getting up in the morning seem nearly as fun. Not because I don't love what I do, but just because my body hates being made to wake up at a certain hour. So over time, with trial and error, I've built a complex multi-sensory system using technology to lead me gently back into the real world each morning. Some have called it "insane." I call it effective.

In brief:

  • Soft music
  • WeMo-powered lamp
  • UP wristband
  • iPhone alarm

Almost as awesome as waking up in Wallace & Gromit's house

6:00am. Radio alarm: gentle sound

bose radio alarm clock

Okay, so this isn't really an "internet of things" thing, since radio alarm clocks have been around long before Groundhog Day. But a steady stream of soft sounds, like NPR talk radio or WBGO jazz, reaches into my brain to nudge it awake. Notice that volume is at 4. That's like whisper-level. My mind makes note of the sound but continues to doze. The radio will stay on for an hour.

6:15am. WeMo lamp: imitation sunrise

ikea lamp, christine platt painting

Painting is a treasured portrait by my friend, Christine Platt

Next up: my WeMo-powered bedside lamp switches on about 15 minutes after the radio. The WeMo Switch is an app-powered plug-in outlet. The app also lets you set time-based rules and switch on your appliance from anywhere in the world. The most obvious use is a lamp timer. I've set wakeup timers, reading-in-bed-falling-asleep timers, and please-don't-rob-me vacation timers.But in this case, it operates as a weekday-specific timer.

wemo switchLight is the most natural way to wake up, in my opinion. My blinds are slanted at just the right angle to let in early morning sunlight, too, but of course sunrise varies throughout the year and my work hours do not. So my low-wattage lamp sends some rays of light into my sleepy eyeballs, and my brain drags itself a little further out of dreamland.

6:30ish. UP wristband: a tiny buzz

up wristband

I often describe the "wake up" function of UP as a tiny bumblebee nudging my hand. I reviewed Jawbone's UP wristband in May 2013. Since then, I've given up tracking my steps, because it didn't tell me anything my body didn't already know. That is, on days I walked a lot, I didn't have to look at a graph to know I felt dang tired!

But the smart sleep alarm is a beautiful thing. In the UP app, you set the general time you want to wake up at, and the wristband will buzz 10, 20, or 30 minutes around that time when it senses you are in light sleep (as opposed to REM). It's a smarter way to wake up than a rigidly-timed alarm clock, because you wake up feeling more refreshed — as though you were pulled to the surface of wakefulness from the shallows, rather than all the way down from the depths.

My body must now move to switch off the buzzing, and I start becoming conscious.

6:50–7:15am. iPhone alarm: last resort

If soft sounds, low light, and a wrist buzz doesn't wake me up, it's time to bring out the harsh but effective iPhone alarm. I don't have a special app, just the regular Clock, with several alarms set increasingly close together. Helpfully, iOS keeps changing the alarm interface, so I often don't know where the snooze button is.

And finally, about an hour after the daily ordeal began, I am awake.

Bonus alarms

  • Roommates grind coffee beans or make toast (the best smells in the world)
  • Boyfriend is around (and I don't want to be embarrassed by the number of times I hit snooze)
  • Horns honking outside when the school bus waits for a late kid (destroys the hard work I put into waking myself up cheerfully, but the air from the window I shove open to glare outside is refreshing)
  • Dog-sitting Latke, the best dog in the world, who must be walked early (the most effective out of everything)

Suggestions from other people

  • A friend used to own an alarm clock that let her record self-talk the night before ("Come on, get up, you have a really important thing today")
  • Timed coffeemaker (again with the smell, which would make this system "4D")
  • Pet or child (both have benefits besides alarm clock function, or so I hear)
  • Just get up already Robin this is getting ridiculous you have been hitting snooze for an hour 

The system isn't perfect, but it works most days. Other suggestions welcome (@robincamille).