The last couple of weeks have been really foggy for me. Brain fog is a really common symptom for people with chronic illnesses. It makes it hard to think, and especially hard to remember even the most basic self care. You know, the stuff that’s pretty much the foundation of managing our chronic illnesses in the first place.
For me, the hardest thing to remember is to take my medication every day. I’ve been on some sort of medication for… I’m not actually sure how long. A really long time.
So I had to figure out a way of making sure that I remember to take it. Every. Single. Day.
Right now you may be thinking: “But if you’ve had to do this every day for 15+ years, how is it not just a deeply ingrained habit by now?”
I DON’T KNOW. Lemme alone!
Anyway, I’ve tried a lot of things. Sticky notes on the bathroom mirror. Leaving my pills where I’m most likely to see them around the time I’m supposed to take them. My mom or partner demanding “Have you taken your meds today?!” when I’m being especially moody.
And then I started setting alarms, y’all.
I know, it doesn’t sound all that revolutionary. People have been using alarms forever. But until recently I had never really considered developing an entire system of alarms for my self care needs.
And over the last year, that’s what I’ve done. I started by setting alarms to remind me to take my medication. Then I added one for when I need to go to a medical appointment. And it’s evolved from there.
So… why an alarm instead of a reminder?
Because it’s a whole lot more obnoxious.
A reminder might pop up on your lock screen and make a noise, but if you’re not paying attention you might miss it. An alarm, on the other hand, is relentless. It keeps going until you turn it off, so there’s at least a higher chance of you paying attention to it.
I use calendar reminders for a lot of other things. But not for things that need to happen at a specific time. For those, I set alarms.
So that’s what I’m going to show you today: how I set up my system of self care alarms.
What You’ll Need
This 2-part tutorial utilizes two modes in the iOS Clock app: Alarm and Bedtime.
If you don’t use an iOS device, I apologize. I have an iPhone, and am completely unfamiliar with how to operate any other mobile device. (Seriously, I can barely make my kid’s Android tablet work.)
But from a quick search, it looks like Google Clock would work for setting up custom alarms like I recommend here. You would just need to manually set up alarms for your wake up time and bedtime.
Whatever you use, just make sure that you’re able to create multiple alarms, and that you’re able to label them. I’ll explain why later.
All of the other advice in this tutorial still applies, regardless of what operating system or app you use!
So let’s get started.
Part I: Alarms for Waking Up & Going to Bed, Featuring Bedtime Mode
This is the most recent addition to my system. Like the crazy person I am, I’ve just been setting a normal alarm to wake up. But who doesn’t like a fancier, more customized way of doing something you’ve already been doing just fine?
MONSTERS, I tell you!
Special Fancy Bedtime Mode Features
In addition to being a wake up alarm, Bedtime mode sends you a (very gentle, ignorable) reminder that you need to go to bed in order to get X hours of sleep. This can be super helpful if you’re someone (like me) who struggles with making yourself go to bed.
It’s hard to explain, but sometimes I have a hard time actually getting up and making myself go to bed. I’m probably not even doing anything important – just watching Netflix and playing 2048 (you’re welcome). But an episode of whatever show I’m watching will end, and if I’m in the middle of a game I can’t stop playing. Then, by the time I finish the game, another episode has started and I can’t just turn it off and go to bed.
So I wind up stuck in this cycle until 1) the end of a game happens to coincide closely with the end of an episode, 2) Netflix takes mercy on me and throws up one of those ‘Are you still watching?’ screens, or 3) something else breaks my concentration (like a reminder/alarm!!!).
That being said, I may have to switch my bedtime reminder to an alarm. After using this feature for a few days, I’m just not convinced that a gentle reminder is enough for me. But depending on your needs, this could be great!
So here’s how you do it…
If you’ve never used this feature before, the app will walk you right through setting it up. But I’m also going to walk you through it, with much more entertaining color commentary.
STEP 1: Spin the clock dials to select what time you want to wake up each morning.
IMPORTANT: Double-check the AM/PM dial!!!
Sometimes sending the little numbers whizzing by is just too much fun (DISTRACTING), and before you know it you end up on the wrong side of the day. And if you don’t happen to notice, you’ll sleep through a therapy appointment the next day, and there will be much swearing and cursing of Apple, until you finally realize it was your own damn fault.
So save yourself the stress and $60, and double-check that dial.
STEP 2: Select which days of the week you want to be woken up.
Sleep specialists will tell you that it’s best to get up at the same time each day. If you’re living with chronic illness you’ve probably heard this a bajillion times. Sleep hygiene is a super-duper important part of a whole-body treatment plan for chronic illness, especially if it causes chronic fatigue.
But you probably also know just how freaking unreasonable it is to expect someone to wake up at the same time each day when they’re dead-exhausted. All. The. Time. So my advice here is to give yourself a break.
This might mean only having the alarm go off on certain days. Or maybe you make occasional use of the snooze button. Or (my favorite) some days you just turn the alarm off and go back to sleep because today just isn’t going to work out.
However you choose to handle it is absolutely 100% okay.
STEP 3: Calculate Your Bedtime
Next, it’s going to ask you how many hours of sleep you need each night. This helps the app calculate what time you should go to bed each night, so you don’t have to do any of the math yourself.
For spoonies, this might be a trick question, though.
Let’s say you’ve managed to figure out that you need about 10 hours of sleep each night. 10 hours gives you at least some chance of avoiding brain fog the next day. But you have a kid that wakes up at 8AM every day, and you’re a night owl who’s really NEVER been able to go to sleep before midnight.
Sucks to be you, doesn’t it?
Do what you can. In my case, I try to clock about 8 hours of sleep at night, and then snag a couple more when the kid naps after lunch.
There are, of course, many possible interruptions to this plan. Kids wake up at night. They refuse to nap. Shit happens.
So when I’m facing a really rough morning, I secure the living room, provision the kid with cartoons and Cheerios, and doze on the couch for a while. This really only buys me 30-45 minutes before she decides I need to be awake, but at least it’s something.
STEP 4 & 5: Select your bedtime reminder and wake up music.
Finally, it will ask you when you want your bedtime reminder, and what kind of sound you want to wake up to.
I picked 30 minutes before, because that still gives me some time to read. I might change it to 45 minutes or 1 hour, though, so that I have more wind-down time from evening work. This is something you might have to play with, and see what works best for you.
Same goes for the sound you wake up to.
A word of warning here: All of the sounds they include are nice, calm tracks meant to ease you peacefully from your slumber. They start out nice and quiet, and get louder until you turn the alarm off.
This can be really nice, if it works for you. So far it’s been fine for me. But I also have a 19 month old for a back-up alarm.
If you’re afraid that a gentle, calming wake up alarm just isn’t going to cut it, I suggest setting a loud, annoying backup in the regular Alarms section of the app.
STEP 6: Hit Save and celebrate.
And there you have it! You’ve successfully navigated the Bedtime feature of Clock. If you ever need to go back an make changes, just hit Options in the upper lefthand corner of the Bedtime screen.
Part II: Now Set Up Other Important Reminders in Alarm Mode
These can be anything else you need to do during the day. I think the key here is to keep it simple, at least to start. Don’t just set 30-some alarms for things you want to do every day. You will end up ignoring ever. single. one. Trust me.
Instead, pick no more than a handful of things that are super important and HAVE to get done at a particular time. For me, this includes taking my medication twice a day, going to appointments, and picking Little Bit up from daycare.
Soon I might add another one for lunch. Remembering to eat on a regular basis is extremely important self care, and it’s not something I’m very good at. I get wrapped up in whatever I’m doing, and suddenly it’s 3pm and I’m wondering why in the world I’m so darn hungry!
As I mentioned earlier, I use calendar reminders for all the other things I want to get done. So try to be selective here!
Notice that the only ones I have set to go off every day are my medication reminders. The other two don’t necessarily happen every day. If I’m going to need them, I just edit and turn them on the night before when I review my calendar.
How to Add or Edit an Alarm
To edit an existing alarm, hit Edit in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, then select the alarm you want to work on. To add a new alarm, hit the + sign in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.
Either way, you’ll see a screen like this:
STEP 1: Spin the time dials to whatever time you need (double-checking the AM/PM dial as discussed above).
STEP 2: Tap the Repeat field, and select which days you want this alarm to go off. If you only want to use it when needed, leave this field alone.
STEP 3: Tap the Label field, and fill it in with something that will help you identify why in the name of all things good is your phone blaring pop-punk at 2:30pm??!!
If you’ve ever experienced brain fog, you probably know that failing to label your alarm leaves you with a very real chance of ending up like Neville with his Remembrall.
STEP 4: Tap the Sound field, and customize as desired.
STEP 5: Toggle the Snooze switch on or off. If you leave it on, you will have the option to snooze this alarm when it goes off. Turning it off takes this option away.
STEP 6: Hit Save, or all your hard work will have been wasted.
Pretty easy, huh?
I love using technology to make my life easier. As David Allen says, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” Technology, and systems like this, let us use our (sometimes very limited) brain power for way more interesting things, while still making sure we remember the important things.
I hope you’ve found this tutorial helpful!