The Wake Up Product: Problem Statement

Are you one of those people that has no problem waking up in the morning? Your alarm rings and overjoyed, you spring out of bed refreshed from your 8.0 hours of sleep and start your routine without a hint of a grumble. Do you even exist?

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Your a myth, lady.

I’m definitely not one of those people. There has not a single day in my life that I have willingly got out of bed. My morning routine is more efficiently organised than a German assembly line. I brush my teeth in the shower while my porridge is microwaving and eat it while I’m getting dressed. This is all done to maximise my sleep in, that shameful time when my ambitious, alarm setting night time self is mocked by my groggy brain and the temptation of the snooze button. But after hearing from a friend about a Phillips Wake up Light helping him to get out of bed, I decided to give the idea of an ambient light alarm a go. The idea behind products like these is gradually increasing ambient light gently wakes you from your deep sleep, rather than kicking you out of your snuggly beautiful dream world like the ol’ bathtub chair.

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Alarm concept #23

Concept Testing

Instead of forking out for a Phillips model to test without actually knowing if the ambient light helps me to wake up or not, I wanted to see if the concept actually worked. I downloaded an app called Morning Sun which aimed to provide ambient light using the phones screen rather than a dedicated device. Did it help? Yes. The phone screen on full brightness couldn’t wake me up by itself – maybe a more powerful light could – but I did feel significantly less groggy when my audio alarm went off. There is also significant support in the literature for the effect of ambient light in the last 30 minutes of sleep reducing “sleep inertia” on waking up. And surely the paleo market can be convinced that a dawn wake up is wired into our DNA.

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Paleolithic humans use an early ambient light alarm prototype to fight off predators.

The Problem Statement

I like to write a problem statement early on in a design project, because it forces me to step back and define exactly what problem I’m trying to solve. Its good to do a couple of these, starting with the most obvious and chopping, changing and whittling down until you have something that truly captures what you are trying to achieve.

So I might start with “Design an ambient light alarm.” But this is already confining. What about a solution that only lights the eyes of one person in a room for those that share a bed but don’t wake up at the same time? Probably difficult to achieve but that’s not the point, I want to address the problem, not just design whatever preconcieved solution I already have in my head. So now we have something like “Design a light alarm.” But that’s still not what I’m actually trying to do. I’m trying to “Design a product that helps people wake up less tired.” I know from my testing that ambient light seemed to help, but a problem statement like this encourages me to look into other options that might solve this problem better.

This led me to research the sleep cycle selection methods that fitness trackers like the Jawbone and Fitbit offer. These claim to monitor your sleep cycles and  wake you up at the optimum time in your sleep cycle. The literature suggests this would help, with two of the four known sleep cycles, “REM” and “slow wave” producing measurably worse wake ups when interrupted. However there is also doubt in the ability of a wrist band to accurately monitor sleep cycles (summed up well in this article).

It seems like an ambient light alarm would be easier to reliably engineer than a system that aims to measure the brains electrical output or very subtle changes in body temperature. But we will leave that for the next post. For now, I have my problem statement.

“Design a product that helps people wake up less tired.”

Stay posted for more research, design specifications, and prototype builds up next in this series.

Research Articles on “Sleep Inertia”

Time course of sleep inertia dissipation in human performance and alertness.

Effects of artificial dawn on sleep inertia, skin temperature, and the awakening cortisol response

Effects of dawn simulation on markers of sleep inertia and post-waking performance in humans

Effects of artificial dawn on subjective ratings of sleep inertia and dim light melatonin onset

Sleep inertia – “Abrupt awakening during a slow wave sleep (SWS) episode produces more sleep inertia than awakening in stage 1 or 2, REM sleep being intermediate”