Sleeping with time in mind? A literature review and a proposal for a screening questionnaire on self-awakening

Verga, L., D’Este, G., Cassani, S., Leitner, C., Kotz, S. A., Ferini-Strambi, L., & Galbiati, A. (2023). Sleeping with time in mind? A literature review and a proposal for a screening questionnaire on self-awakening. PLoS One, 18(3): e0283221. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0283221.
Some people report being able to spontaneously “time” the end of their sleep. This ability to self-awaken challenges the idea of sleep as a passive cognitive state. Yet, current evidence on this phenomenon is limited, partly because of the varied definitions of self-awakening and experimental approaches used to study it. Here, we provide a review of the literature on self-awakening. Our aim is to i) contextualise the phenomenon, ii) propose an operating definition, and iii) summarise the scientific approaches used so far. The literature review identified 17 studies on self-awakening. Most of them adopted an objective sleep evaluation (76%), targeted nocturnal sleep (76%), and used a single criterion to define the success of awakening (82%); for most studies, this corresponded to awakening occurring in a time window of 30 minutes around the expected awakening time. Out of 715 total participants, 125 (17%) reported to be self-awakeners, with an average age of 23.24 years and a slight predominance of males compared to females. These results reveal self-awakening as a relatively rare phenomenon. To facilitate the study of self-awakening, and based on the results of the literature review, we propose a quick paper-and-pencil screening questionnaire for self-awakeners and provide an initial validation for it. Taken together, the combined results of the literature review and the proposed questionnaire help in characterising a theoretical framework for self-awakenings, while providing a useful tool and empirical suggestions for future experimental studies, which should ideally employ objective measurements.
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