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What to Do When You Sleep Through Your Alarm


Ah, the sun is shining into your bedroom, the birds are chirping outside your window and you feel curiously, but pleasantly, more rested than normal. You thumb the crusties from your eyes, stretch your arms above your head and grab your phone from your bedside table. It reads: 9:37 a.m.


You were supposed to be at work 37 minutes ago, but here you are, in your bedroom, completely naked, with your hair extending in every direction and an imprint of your pillowcase on your right cheek.

This might seem like a catastrophic situation, sure, but with some guidance from our assortment of experts, your day will be back on track in no time. So take a breath, put on some pants and listen closely.

Oh God oh God oh God I need to leave NOW!

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow it down, buddy! I know this feels like the end of the world, but before you rush out the door, befuddled and disheveled, take a moment to analyze your situation. “Rushing out in order to try to minimize how late you are from that point on is not the right move,” says Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners, a company that works with CEOs to help them grow as leaders. “What you really want to do is find your center.”


Okay, fair. But it’s actually pretty straightforward: Finding your center means that you need to consider what the best use of your time is from this point on, which obviously depends on your relationship with your boss and how your workplace handles things. For example, if your job allows it, Bregman suggests considering working from home if that would help you get more done than rushing into the office, possibly losing out on even more productivity in the process of scrambling and commuting. Not to mention, working from home could help you reset for a better tomorrow.

Another couple things to ask yourself are, how much of your morning routine is essential to your productivity at work, and how late can you be without creating an actual workplace disaster? “If this happened to me, I’d make my calls, I’d admit whatever I have to admit to whoever I need to admit it, let them know I’m going to be coming in late, and then I’d do at least some elements of my normal routine,” Bregman explains. “If I meditate, I’d meditate. If I exercise, I’d exercise. This is bad. But this happened, and I’m not going to lose my head about it.”

So I should probably contact my boss now, right?

Yes! Whether you decide to rush into the office, or if possible, take a work-from-home day, your next move should be contacting your boss and giving them an update.

Can I… can I lie about what happened?

You could, but Bregman advises against doing so, especially if you have a track record of being on time and getting your work done efficiently. “If you’re a high performer,” he explains, “it actually humanizes you to say, ‘I slept through my alarm clock. I’m so sorry.’ Just own it.”

If you’re a poor performer, meanwhile — which probably means you have more problems than just sleeping through your alarm — admitting that you slept in could be what ensures it doesn’t happen again. “There’s a way in which being totally honest about it if you’re a poor performer is more likely to change your performance, because if you’re lying about it, you’re not really owning or confronting the challenges that you’re facing,” says Bregman. “If you say it out loud and you own it, it’s going to be embarrassing to you, and the likelihood that you’re going to do it again is going to go down.”

Fine, I’ll tell my boss what happened. But I still need to get out the door quickly. What can I do to get myself together?

For clothes, your best bet is wearing what you normally wear. “Know which outfit formulas work for you,” says stylist Rayne Parvis. “Another tip that takes some discipline is putting all of your items back into your closet ready to wear, ironed and/or steamed. So when you wake up late, your closet will be there waiting for you.”

In terms of grooming, less is obviously more. “Make sure you wash your face with cold water, as this helps stimulate blood flow to get rid of any sheet creases,” Parvis explains, adding that, unless a quick brushing is enough to get your bedhead in working order, you could simply throw on your favorite hat to cover up any wild cowlicks.

What about the fact that I woke up six minutes ago, have had no coffee and might as well still be asleep, at least as far as my brain is concerned?

“Don’t try to get ready in the dark,” says clinical sleep educator Terry Cralle. “Open the curtains and turn on the lights. Morning light exposure — and reduced light exposure at night — will help get you up and moving.”

Of course, a quick dose of caffeine can help you get going, too. In fact, Cralle points to a study that says even the smell of coffee can help you get up in the morning, adding that “a nearby programmable coffeemaker may help you avoid oversleeping.” Alternatively, pause outside the nearest Starbucks on your way and inhale deeply for five seconds.

Got it. Uh, how can I make sure this never, ever happens again?

Well, if this is a rare occurrence, Bregman suggests taking a hard look at what exactly happened. Did you stay up super late the night before? Did you set your alarm earlier than normal? Have you been working too hard lately? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, consider making a change to avoid oversleeping in the future.

More practically, since we already know that light is helpful in the mornings, Cralle advises, “Use a timer to turn on the bedroom lights in the morning and open the curtains when you wake up. There are also alarm clocks that simulate a natural sunrise, gradually increasing in brightness over a preset time prior to going off.”

If you oversleep often, Cralle also suggests revisiting your sleep schedule. “You may not be getting enough sleep,” she points out. “The majority of adults require seven to nine hours of sleep per night.” Consider, also, the possibility of an undiagnosed sleep disorder, which you can ask your healthcare provider about. “Untreated sleep disorders can leave you exhausted, making it difficult to wake up in the morning and increasing your chances of oversleeping,” Cralle adds.

If you get enough sleep and a disorder is out of the question, Cralle provides some more general tips that can help you get up in the morning and feel more rested when doing so. “Put your alarm across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off,” she suggests. “Don’t use the snooze button, have consistent sleep and wake times and don’t undersleep during the week in the hopes of making up for it on the weekends. It’s much better to get sufficient sleep every day of the week.” You could also try using the “Bedtime” setting in the clock app on your iPhone, which reminds you to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.

I can try all that, sure, but I’m still not convinced it’ll never happen again.

And rightfully so! Humans oversleep: It happens to the best of us, and often at the absolute worst times. “The Today show’s Al Roker reportedly overslept — for the first time in 39 years — in 2013, missing the premiere of his early-morning program,” Cralle says. “Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer reportedly overslept, arriving 90 minutes late for an important dinner meeting at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France. Jody George, a triathlete from the U.K., was reported to have spent a year training for the 2014 Challenge Weymouth Triathlon. The night before the race, George is said to have set his alarm for 3 a.m., but after hitting the snooze button, he slept until 5:55 a.m., missing the race.”

And there’s more! “A Florida man spent 10 days in jail after he overslept and missed jury duty,” Cralle continues. “Los Angeles Angels outfielder Matt Joyce was late for a game against the Toronto Blue Jays in May of 2015 after he overslept, mistakenly thinking they were playing a night game instead of a day game. Hawaiian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku overslept at the 1912 Olympics, missing the 100-meter freestyle semi-final.”

The list goes on and on and on. So while we all know just how awful it feels in those rushed moments after you sleep past your alarm, remember, a) you’re not alone; and b) you wouldn’t have let it happen had you been awake, right?