How to wake up fresh with a smarter alarm

Most of you might not know that your brain is in various phases while you sleep. Yes, even if you think you are a deep sleeper, you aren’t in the “deep sleep” stage the entire time you are in the bed. The brain alternates between various stages and there are times when you are in deep sleep and times when you are in the light sleep stage.

The problem with traditional alarm clocks are that it is based on a fixed time and what stage you are during that time is totally dependant upon what time you started sleeping (not what time you went to bed). Waking up to the “nuclear warning” sound of your alarm clock while you are in deep sleep is the worst way to begin your day.

You can wire up your brain and monitor what stage you are in and ask someone to wake you up at the right moment. But It is too costly and no human would be willing to monitor and wake you up every single day.

The alternative is to use the various sleep monitoring apps available for your smartphones. These apps use the accelerometer in your smartphone and detect the minor movements you make when during the lightest stage of your sleep. Using that, it can wake you up at the right stage and you would wake up refreshed and not wanting to kill everyone.

SleepTime alarm set screen
SleepTime alarm set screen

The app I use is SleepTime by Azumio, which is available for both iPhone and Android phones. All you have to do is set up a Alarm Time by which time you “should” wake up. The App chooses a 30 minute window before the set time. Whenever you are in the lightest stage of your sleep within that 30 minute window, it wakes you up. It also has nice graphs of your sleep stages and how often you woke up, etc. It is interesting if you love to measure metrics about everything.

The alarm sound is also very light and pleasant sounding (much relief to my wife) and since you are in the lightest stage of the sleep, even the lightest sounds is enough to wake you up. I tried similar apps long time before but the old android smartphones were more of a battery extractors and the phone died out before I could even finish a night’s sleep. Constantly monitoring the accelerometer is a battery drain.

But nowadays batteries are much better and on my iphone I lose about something like 20% of battery from a fully charged state. I did try this app many days and I have definitely been woken up at the lightest stage of my sleep to the lowest volume. There was an exception on a day or two, but that was because I was too tired to wake up because of not enough sleep (I am a night owl).

If you are a normal living person and want to wake up fresh everyday, do try SleepTime. You would notice a small difference in how you wake up.

Learn Social Psychology on Coursera

Ever wondered why people do what they do? How simple things that is not very noticeable, alters human behaviour. Why we like some people and dislike someone else? How some can be very persuasive when they talk to others?

social-psychology-courseraAll this can be understood from the online course on Social Psychology, from Coursera. It is a 6 week long course and the workload is about 4-8 hours per week. It is taught by Scott Plous of Wesleyan University who has also made parts of bonus materials free for students. Also students of this course get to subscribe to the Social Psychology Network for the lowest rate of $10.

The course starts from Aug 12th, though early subscribers have had the first week’s modules available as an early release. Plus, if you complete with enough credits, you could get a Statement of Accomplishment.

I have the nasty habit of starting these courses and not sticking with it after 2-3 weeks. But now I am determined to follow through as I have blogged everyday for more than a month. This shows that if I want to, I can make something as an habit. Maybe I will have to cut down on my blogging (to 1 or 2 posts a week) and spend more time on these courses and my other hobbies.

Overall this is looks like a nice introductory course to have a basic understanding of how people think and I do want to complete this course. I have already finished 6 lecture videos of the first week’s modules (released early) and must sit down for the first assignment.

Bonus: To make you interested in this course, here is a nice video (part of the course) that demonstrates the effect of Change Blindness – Colour Changing Card Trick.

Tracking your workouts using your smartphone

For a long time, I was tracking my workouts (which was just plain walking and jogging) using an iPod Nano which had a simple pedometer. It could track how many steps you take and how many long runs you do and a very simple calorie calculation.

From Wikipedia
From Wikipedia

It worked great as I can listen to podcasts and also silently tracked my workouts. But it doesn’t work for cycling. There are however a few options where you could buy a cheap cyclocomputer which can measure your average speed, max speed, workout time, distance travelled in a trip, etc.

If you want to track more info about the route you take, you can use some of the costlier GPS solutions which track the elevation gradient, draw your route on a map, etc.

Or if you want to just start tracking your workouts today, there is however a device which you already have in your pockets – your smartphone. There are apps for both Android and iPhone which allow you to track the speed, distance, route, etc., all using the built-in GPS.

There are two apps that seem popular among the community. Best part is, both these apps work for running/jogging/cycling.

Strava: This is a free app for both iPhone and Android. It does have a monthly subscription for premium features. It looks very polished and seem to work really great for me. Can track your average/max speed, elevation gain, calories, routes, etc. It also has social features where you can follow the activity of your friends and even compete on segments for the fastest time. It also works with some of the other GPS devices you may have.

Endomondo: It is also very similar and has the same functionality of tracking speed, elevation, route, etc. Can work on both iPhone and Android or any GPS enabled device. Free, though there are membership plans for some advanced features.

You can choose either of these and start tracking your workout easily. The only problem is having a heavy smartphone in your pocket, which is easily solved if you can get an armband for you phone.

Once you are into serious training and want to track really long distances, you can choose to get a GPS device which does its job well and integrate with your account on either of these two sites. Till then, I will be using my smartphone app to track my workouts.

Cycling after 9 years

Today’s post isn’t about money or investments. Instead it is cycling. It was something I used to enjoy when I was a kid, which was the primary mode of transport from home to school. But soon, I got my license and stopped cycling.

After 9 years, I was looking back at cycling and found that there is a good community around bicycles. Even though cycles form a very small percentage of vehicles on the road in India, young people have started cycling – both as a hobby and also competing amongst others.

I wanted to start cycling again after a 9 year break for various reasons:

  • I am not so badly out of shape, that I need some form of exercise. Running and jogging? Nah, I wasn’t motivated enough because all I could run around was the neighbourhood. Gyms? I don’t want to pay the money and let the membership go waste.
  • I do need some time out of my home office as I was getting bored and irritated sitting behind the desk all day long.
  • I want a new hobby and also to meet some people who are passionate about it. And Chennai does have a lot of groups who are interested in cycling.

I read through various forums, articles and learnt a lot about the various types of bikes and finally last week I went and got a very simple bicycle.


I did cycle for 4 days getting up early in the morning – not very long distances, but enough to make me go out of breath (given that I weigh quite a bit more than 9 years back). I couldn’t get up early then because of my cold and a painful sore throat.

But I am determined to cycle regularly and I find it is fun. I seemed to have forgotten all the fun I had cycling so many years back. I don’t cycle because it is green and saves the planet and is faster to commute in traffic or other reasons. I cycle because I need a hobby and I find it is fun.

You should also try it too. A quick search would get you lot of information about cycling, maintenance, etc. But I would suggest starting out with this thread which discusses about the various types of bikes and which is best suited, especially for Indian readers.

P.S.: Check out my stats in my Strava Profile.