When I came up with the idea for this blog, one of the first things someone suggested to me was a "how to" on waking someone up just by staring at them. After all, it works for cats. Why wouldn't it work for people too?
I had to admit, she had a point. An alarm can go off for fifteen minutes or more without even being noticed, but a cat perched on a pillow looking deep into your sleeping retinas can yank you out of Dreamland at a moment's notice. (It's almost as effective as the sound of a child standing in the doorway at 3 o'clock in the morning announcing they need to throw up…but not quite.) There's no question about whether or not this staring thing works. The question is, if a cat can do it, why can't you?
Well, several in-depth hours of research later I can firmly reassure you of three things. One, if you follow your cat's example, share a pillow with your child/spouse/friend/roommate and stare at them for a while, they will wake up. Two, it has absolutely nothing to do with ESP, psychic powers or telepathy. (They may wake up, but you're going to have to tell them it's their turn to make breakfast.) And three, whoever you try this out on is going to think you're really, really creepy. Be prepared to get suspicious looks for the next couple of days until things get back to normal.
Since ESP doesn't seem to play an integral role in the waking up process, why does staring someone in the face work? The evidence suggests it has more to do with proximity to their mouth, cheeks and nostrils than the actual staring process. You may breathe, shift the pillow or make a noise that jump starts the self preservation center of their brain and lets them know someone's close by. Since being sound asleep with a predator sniffing at your face isn't a great way to beat Darwin's rules of longevity, the thalamus is going to shoot the fact that someone's getting up in your face along the fear pathway to the amygdala and the hypothalamus, setting the stage for a fight or flight response.
That could explain why you're so cranky when you finally do wake up!