How to Wake Someone Up — 8 Myths, Facts, and Absurdities

A person is sleeping in bed with white sheets and a red pillow. Perhaps someone needs to wake them up.

The internet has a lot to say about how to wake someone up, but some of it is absolute bunk.


Waking someone up in typical circumstances shouldn’t be that difficult. If you’re having difficulty doing so, consider calling an ambulance.


Waking someone up should be easy. You know it, I know it. However, the internet — as usual — has made it some kind of extreme challenge. There are some big truths out there but there are also some myths, including some from rather “big” players in the health industry that are so absurd we just have to mention them.


We found 8 myths, facts, and crazy absurdities relating to waking someone up. Here they are in no particular order:


Myth — Smell Wakes People Up

Firefighters fight against a house fire. (from: Pixabay via Pexels / Fireman Illustration)

A pot of coffee or the smell of smoke will wake someone up.


The fact is, if smell or smoke woke you up reliably we wouldn’t need smoke detectors. Arguing otherwise is anti-scientific, harmful, and will result in deaths. Full stop.


We have smoke alarms, which detect smoke that you could smell if you were awake and convert them to sound, for a reason. If this mechanism weren’t in place then fire alarms simply would not exist except for people with no sense of smell. (Covid-19, anyone?) To suggest otherwise is dangerous to human life.


“While sound can disrupt sleep, scents cannot.” — ScienceDaily


There’s no way a ClockHug writer will deny the powerful effects of coffee maker with timer usage for our morning wake-up. But, and this is a big “but” to add, another stimulus must be added to make it all work. If you’re already mildly awake, the scent will help you get the rest of the way there. If you’re fully asleep, it won’t help.


Don’t fall for this seriously dangerous myth.


Speaking of what’s dangerous, here is something that you’ll occasionally hear is super dangerous: Waking someone up.


Absurdity — Waking Someone Up is Dangerous for Them

You may have seen hyperbolic statements that warn you waking someone up could cause serious problems, even harm them.


Why do they say this? It’s being overly cautious. While some older people, people with heart conditions, and possibly those with sleep apnea might have special situations, that’s one thing. For example, research suggests that self-awakening prevents blood pressure rise and worrisome heart rate jumps in the elderly.


If it were truly dangerous to be woken up suddenly, the majority of us would be in ill health. Who hasn’t been woken up by a loud banging at the door or a parent’s yell at one time or another? It was rude, it might have even been scary, but it was hardly life-threatening. If it were, even your alarm clock would be dangerous.


However, we’re all still here. All doing fine.


There is no doubt that there are certain people that it would be dangerous to wake up suddenly. There are also people that should not be woken up suddenly. These people have very special circumstances and family conversations with their medical professional should be the go-to source of information about those circumstances. Waking up a sleepwalker is also a special case.


Absurdity — Waking Someone Up is Dangerous for You

This man is angry after being woken up and looks like he might punch someone. (from: Pexels / Mart Production)

On the flip side, we’re also told that waking someone up could be dangerous to your health.


The logic goes that the person could become extremely angry, get violent, etc. While this is true, on the surface, the internet exaggerates these claims to absurd degrees. Typical people might wake up grumpy as a result of poor dietary choices or sleep deprivation, but they aren’t going to be ready to throttle you.


If you’re wondering how to wake someone up that yells at you or how to wake someone up that is abusive, chances are you are tip-toeing around their whims on the average day as well.


In other words, if someone is this abusive towards you upon waking up, they’re likely this abusive towards you all day long. How to wake someone like this up isn’t the issue. Their behavior is.


Don’t let “grumpy wakeups” excuse abusive behavior from others.


Myth — Talking is Enough

If someone says they are awake, it doesn’t mean they are.


Picture this, you go to wake up your teen and have a brief conversation. They mumble slightly, “Okay, I’m awake.” You get breakfast ready, waiting on them. They never arrive.


And why is your teen not coming down for breakfast? They’ve returned to sleep. You’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that a few words spoken equals alertness.


In reality, you’ll see that mental activity and mindfulness rank repeatedly amongst the top suggestions from sleep experts for waking up fully.


So, how to wake up your teen in the morning? For starters, make them be responsible for their own wake-up time by getting them an alarm clock. But, if you must be involved in the process, don’t ask gentle questions like, “Are you awake?” Instead, ask difficult math problems or get them to explain the Krebs Cycle to you. Or maybe just drop an annoying alarm clock as far away from their bed as possible and scram.


Myth — You Can Wake Yourself Up

A woman sleeping next to her smartphone that she will be using as her alarm. (from: Pexels/Ketut Subiyanto)

How to wake yourself up? It can be a bit complicated.


Of course, the best place to start is with your dedicated alarm. But we also know that some people notice that alarms don’t wake them up.


From time to time people (yes, this includes you) will sleep through their alarm. It is part of life.


Another issue comes from thinking that we can just lay in bed for a bit and not fall back asleep. Thinking that we can wake ourselves out of a tired haze on command. It’s not so easy, and falling into this trap is a good way to snooze ourselves into a losing position. What you need is a good morning routine and something external to wake you up.


Fact — Light Helps

You may know cortisol as the stress hormone. As it turns out it is also melatonin’s opposite. 

Cortisol is the wake-up hormone. As we sleep, our cortisol levels rise until about an hour before our natural wake-up time. Just as cats perceive time

based on their bodies’ biology, so do we as a result of ours. 


But, our body does use some external cues to key it into what time it is. A big one being light.


As the sun slowly rises over the horizon, the world gradually becomes brighter. When this happens in the AM, our body recognizes it and cortisol levels shoot up accordingly.


Try opening the blinds on the person you want to wake up. If the sun has already risen, try slowly opening their curtains to simulate sunrise. If it isn’t yet sunrise when you want to wake the person up, there are gradually brightening alarm clocks that will help you on your quest.


Myth — Blue Light is a Panacea

A person's knees are being illuminated with blue, lighting-like light.

So, light helps, but what about blue light? We hear a lot about it these days, with everything from blue light blocking glasses to special blue light filters on our phones.


Blue light, which comes from our phones, screens, computers, and even the sun and sky, is a ubiquitous part of our day, sure to keep anyone up.


It is true that blue light affects circadian rhythms the most, but it isn’t the instant wake-up panacea you might have been led to believe it is.


Back in the 90s, for instance, sleep researchers published an article that seemed to suggest exposure to light on the back of your knees could keep you awake or reduce sleep quality. Reasonable people were led to believe this for many years and many smart minds began to attribute this effect to the well-known evils of blue light.


Fast forward to the present day and those old claims have been re-examined, with new research refuting any effects of bright light behind the knees. Flaws in data collection from the original study are highlighted in research comparisons.


So, keep avoiding blue light at night. It factually disrupts sleep if you let it into your eyes. But shining a blue light on the back of someone’s knees isn’t how to wake someone up correctly.



Absurdity — Pranking Your Friends Awake

There’s this idea out there that you can prank somebody awake. As if a prank is a special way to wake someone up.


Since waking up is a mechanism, most “pranks” that wake people up are just wake-up events with pranks attached. It’s simply taking advantage of that confused feeling after someone wakes up.


Pouring a bucket of water on someone’s head to jolt them out of bed? Think again. It can take hours of work to dry a mattress to prevent mold growth. It’s just not worth it.


One other absurdity while talking about water is that strange putting someone’s hand in warm water to make them pee thing. Does it work? Oddly enough, it is still up for debate, with the only research we’re finding being done in a not-so-scientific episode of MythBusters. Let us know your theories in the comments below!


Again, the idea of pranking someone awake is overall quite silly. While people might wake up a bit confused, that confusion will quickly turn into clarity and frustration.


Extended Guide — How to Wake Someone Up

All of the above is great, but how do you wake someone up in special scenarios? We’ve got those covered too!


How to Gently Wake Someone Up

If you want to gently wake someone up, slowly open up their curtains and begin to play soft music. While scents don’t wake people up, people that are already in the stages of waking might be motivated by the smell of coffee or breakfast to get out of bed and into their morning routine.


How to Wake Someone Up Without Them Knowing

If you want to get someone out of bed without them knowing about it, making a loud noise in another part of the home or outside can do the trick. When they wonder what was going on later, just play confused and don’t tell them.


How to Wake Someone Up From a Deep Sleep

Waking up someone from a deep sleep can be tougher than at other times of the sleep cycle. Gently nudging them and speaking to them is the nicest way. Don’t be surprised if they fall back asleep, though. If you want them to stay awake, provide some sort of intellectual stimulus and make sure they respond with thought and intention to show they are fully engaged and awake. Having the person sit up is also beneficial.


How to Wake Someone Up Over the Phone

If you’re curious if you can wake someone up over the phone, you’ll be happy to know that this used to be a fairly standard practice. Even today, if you ask for a wake-up call from your hotel, they’ll usually have someone on staff comply. Hospitality industry experts provide training for wake-up calls tailored to the hotel setting, but general advice like offering a second wake-up call and speaking slowly to not confuse the recipient should work in all cases.

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