How Did People Wake Up Before Alarm Clocks?

It’s Monday morning, and you start your week with the shrilling and persistent screech of the alarm clock, and that wakes you right up. Bye dreams, hello real world, and up you get. Or maybe you’re one of those people that presses snooze for those extra 5 minutes, that often ends up turning into like half an hour, and then you rush through the morning. Or’re one of those people that has to set up like twenty different alarms, 5 minutes apart, because the alarm going off once doesn’t quite do the trick.

Whichever way you use the alarm clock, the fact is that you use an alarm clock to wake up. And the truth is, most people in the Western modern world use an alarm clock, or a similar device, in order to wake from sleep and start the day. Most people can’t imagine waking up on time without the use of this modern device, because they’d just sleep in and be late.

Man waking up with modern alarm clock, trying to turn alarm off

But did people wake up before alarm clocks existed? They had a life and obligations. And presumably, times at which they had to be up in time. So how did they wake themselves up?

There are actually many different pre-alarm clock methods of waking up on time, and throughout history, people have become quite inventive in order to ensure they don’t oversleep.

Here are some of the top methods people used in order to wake up, before the use of alarm clocks was a thing:

Natural Sunlight

Sunlight, early in the morning, has always been one of the primary wake-up calls for humans. The bright sunlight streaming in through the window is a natural way to wake up, as humans function during the day. Before this modern era, most people would orientate their beds towards the East, to get those rays of light first thing in the morning. Plus, they could make sure there were no curtains or blinds so that the light would definitely wake them up!

Wake up to natural sunlight, woman waking up and stretching on a sunny morning

This method is still used nowadays when people want to wake up naturally. Although it works best when paired with a good 8 hours of sleep. If you’re too tired, sunlight might not be enough to stir you away from sleep!

Bladder Control

Have you ever woken up early in the morning, before your alarm clock, because you really needed to go to the toilet to pee? Well, that’s also been used as a pretty reliable method of waking up on time. A lot of people would make sure to drink plenty of water, or other liquids, right before bed. That way, they would have the need to urinate early in the morning, and that would get them out of bed in time! This whole over-drinking before bed method was also used by Native Americans, and it continued to be popular well into the 20th century!

Of course, you have to find a balance between not drinking enough and drinking too much. If you don’t drink enough, you might not wake up on time. But if you drink too much you might be waking up in the middle of the night!

Religious Wake-up Calls

Religious Wake-up Calls, help to wake up the community, beautiful church with bells

Faith and religion have been present throughout humanity’s existence, so it makes sense that they have also somewhat served their purpose as an alarm clock. For example, in early Christian societies, and all throughout the Christian Era, there have been churches in practically every town and village. Churchgoers were called to prayer in the morning, usually by the sounding of loud bells. And loud bells can definitely wake you up so that you’re on time! Plus, bells were also used to sound the passing of time throughout the day, or indicate the beginning and end of the workday.

And this isn’t just a Christian thing! Islamic traditions have audible tones and prayers to mark the beginning of the day, and other religions have their own audible calls to prayer too!

The Clepsydra

The clepsydra was a type of water clock timer, used by some of the earliest civilizations, for thousands and thousands of years. They worked kind of like an hourglass, but with water. IN 245 BCE, the clepsydra was improved to become the first-ever mechanical clock, by Ctesibius of Alexandria. Water poured into a vessel, and a floating bob would slowly rise, and strike different alarms as it did, to mark the passing of time. It was some pretty advanced technology back then, and it was highly effective as an alarm clock, and for keeping track of time.

Peg Clocks

In the year 1555, Taqi al-Din Muhammad ibn Ma’ruf (quite the name right?) invented some mechanical alarm clocks, with one that was able to sound at the time you set it up for. This was known as the peg clock. Essentially, a peg was placed into a hole, on the face of the clock, and at the right time, the peg would fall into a metallic plate, making a sound.

Around this time, there were many different mechanical clocks and “alarm clocks” being invented, as technology was advancing, and the need to wake up on time was massively increasing in importance!

The Knocker-up

Better known as the Knocker-Upper, this was an “alarm clock” that became highly popular during the Industrial Revolution. It was essentially a long stick, with a wire or knob at the end, which would help you get up at the right time. And by “alarm clock”, we mean a person. The knocker-upper was a person. Clients would pay a few pence a week, and the knocker-upper would make sure to go by their house and wake them, not leaving until they were up.

Basically, picture a person going round houses with a stick, poking people until they are awake so that they get up and go to work on time. Sounds kind of funny, but it was a real thing, and quite effective! Besides, you can’t really snooze a knocker-upper...