Skip the Snooze Button for Better Sleep

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Although the snooze button may seem like a gift from the Almighty on Monday mornings, many sleep experts agree that hitting the snooze button contributes to a tired morning and doesn’t help us feel more rested.

Morning Rhythm ’n Blues — The Need-to-Know

Photo by Marissa Angell

Way back when, sunrise and roosters crowing were the go-to signals to get out of bed. Things got fancy in 1787, when Levi Hutchins of New Hampshire invented the first alarm clock, constructed to ring every day at 4am (the same time we all wake up today, right?). A few centuries later, in 1959, Westclox introduced its “Drowse” line of electrical alarm clocks that included a five- or ten-minute snooze function.

Today, snoozing before officially getting out of bed is a pretty standard practice. One survey found that more than a third of American adults hit the snooze button at least three times each morning, and more than half of people ages 25 to 34 press snooze daily.

(Also check out: How to Pick the Perfect Mattress)

But slamming the snooze button isn’t as simple as catching a few more Zzs. In fact, using an alarm clock in general might not be the best idea. To understand why, we have to give some background on the biology of sleep. During the sleep cycle, the body alternates between light sleep and deep (REM) sleep. About an hour before eyes actually open, the body begins to “reboot.” The brain sends out signals to release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, the body temperature rises, and we enter into a lighter sleep in preparation for wake-up [1]. So that alarm beeping or “Call Me Maybe” ringtone jolts us awake before the wake-up process is complete, leading to grogginess that sometimes lasts all morning. And the snooze button may only make the situation worse.

To Snooze Or Not To Snooze? — Your Action Plan

Weird but true: Relying on the alarm clock’s snooze button can actually make us more tired. Especially after a night of too little sleep, hitting snooze won’t make getting up any easier. Those five extra minutes in the morning are less restful than five minutes of REM sleep because they take place at the end of the cycle when sleep is lighter. And, although sleep is usually the time when the brain forms new memories, that process doesn’t happen while we’re sleeping in between alarms. Skipping that high-quality sleep can have serious consequences: A recent study found high school students with poor sleep habits (including using an alarm to wake up) didn’t do so well in school [2].

The secret to an easier wakeup is simple — get more sleep! Set the alarm for the time you actually get out of bed (i.e. the last snooze) and avoid the snooze button altogether. If keeping those paws off the alarm clock is just too difficult, try placing the alarm clock across the room. It’s much easier to resist the siren song of the snooze button if it’s not right next to the bed! Die-hard snoozers should try to minimize the damage by setting the alarm for 10 minutes earlier than usual and snoozing just once or twice. Ten minutes of disrupted sleep ain’t perfect, but it’s better than 30 or 60!

For a permanent solution to weekday sleepiness, try to cultivate better long-term sleep habits. For example, work on going to bed and rising at the same time every day — even on weekends — to establish a daily schedule. Hitting the hay earlier can be difficult at first, but resetting your body’s inner rhythms will make early mornings that much easier. Getting at least one hour of sunlight every day can also help synchronize your internal circadian rhythms with the day-night cycle.

The Takeaway

Tired of waking up feeling exhausted? Hitting the snooze button may seem like a good idea at 6am, but alarm clocks — and more specifically, snooze buttons — can disrupt the sleep cycle, which leads to less restful sleep. To get some high-quality Zzs, try going to bed earlier and getting a solid seven to nine hours of sleep.

Special thanks to Dr. Sarah Chellappa of the Centre for Chronobiology and Dr. Sue X. Ming for their help with this article.

Have something to say? Leave it in the comments below, or tweet the author at @sophbreene.

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About the Author
Sophia Breene
After spending eight years as a high school and college athlete, I'm learning how to maintain a healthy lifestyle on my own (aka without a coach...

Works Cited

  1. What keeps us awake? The role of clocks and hourglasses, light, and melatonin. Cajochen C, Chellappa S, Schmidt C. Center for Chronobiology, Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel, Switzerland. International Review of Neurobiology 2010; 93: 57-90.
  2. Sleep insufficiency, sleep health problems and performance in high school students. Ming X, Koransky R, Kang V, Buchman S, Sarris CE, Wagner GC. Department of Neurosciences and Neurology, UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, NJ. ClinicalMeicine Insights. Circulatory, Respiratory and Pulmonary Medicine. 2011; 5:71-9. Epub 2011 Oct 20.

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