How Did People Wake Up Before Alarm Clocks?

How Did People Wake Up Before Alarm Clocks?

Updated: August 22, 2021

Nowadays, without alarm clocks, many of us would be in trouble. We'd oversleep on workdays, miss meetings, and we'd generally make a mess of things. This leaves many people wondering how people survived without them in the past.

This article explains what did people do before alarm clocks.

Natural Alarm Clocks

The simple fact is that, before alarm clocks, most people just woke up naturally. This was particularly true in rural areas and before industrialization began.

Daylight routine

Without electricity, many people's lives were governed by daylight. When it was dark, people couldn't do a great deal. While they had candles and fires to light things, the light levels weren't particularly useful. As a result, people would go to sleep much earlier and wake up naturally at dawn.

Dawn is a time

While it may seem that people who didn't have alarm clocks or even reliable clocks had no idea of the time, they did. They used times like dawn, midday (when the sun's highest), and dusk to tell the time and organize their activities.

By falling asleep earlier and being in tune with daylight hours, people could wake up at dawn and begin activities just after it.

Bladder control

One interesting way that people could wake up naturally, even earlier than dawn, was with bladder control. People would drink a large amount of water before going to sleep, which would make them wake up to pee before sunrise.

The cock's crow

In many places, cockerels were used to provide some help. Usually, cockerels crow close to sunrise, and their calls were used to help people to wake up at the right time.

First Alarm Clocks

As industrialization spread and people began to live in cities, natural sleep routines became less reliable. As a result, new methods were invented to help people wake up at dawn.

Candlestick alarms

One interesting invention was the candlestick alarm. Probably originated in China, candlestick alarms were simple artificial alarms. To set an alarm, people would place a nail in a candle and place the candle in a metal tray. When the candle burnt down to the nail, it would fall out and wake the person up.

Religious wake-up calls

Early wake-up calls were often used by religions. As well as helping people to devote themselves to religion, these also helped people to make sure they were awake at the right time. A good example is an Islamic call to prayer, which sounds at dawn.


One fairly well-known early alarm, which came from Britain during the Industrial Revolution, was the knocker-upper. Knocker-uppers were people who were employed to knock on people's windows or doors to wake them up in the morning.

Many people wonder how the knocker-upper woke up. Often these were people who worked night shifts and did their knocker-upper duties after they finished their shift.

Factory whistles

Similar to knocker-uppers, factories in Britain during the industrial revolution also sounded whistles to alert people when it would soon be time to start a shift. This was particularly effective where the workforce lived within close proximity of a factory.

Author: Burak Özdemir

My name is Burak, and I used to have difficulties waking up in the morning due to unreliable alarm clocks. Over the past few years, I've dedicated part of my life to finding the best alarm clocks and sharing my knowledge with people through this blog. I'm also the creator of Online Alarm Clock.