Most of us don’t have much of a choice as to when we wake up in the morning — otherwise, approximately 85% of people wouldn’t need to use an alarm clock to wake up. (Those are the numbers, according to sleep researcher Till Roenneberg‘s book “Internal Time.”)
But we can decide what time we want our alarm clocks to go off.
Do you let yourself sleep until the last possible moment? Or do you give yourself some time to snooze, hoping that some light dozing will make it easier to drag yourself out of bed?
Perhaps most importantly, does snoozing actually make it easier or harder to wake up?
Sleep scientists tend to have opinions on this, though there isn’t really any published research on the topic — something that surely reflects one of those disconnects between what the general public wants to know and the questions that are considered important enough for research dollars. But from what sleep researchers have said, we can derive an answer. Unfortunately for those of us who enjoy that idea of just a few more minutes, it’s not great news.
Most sleep researchers says snoozing won’t make you any more rested. If anything, it can make it harder for you to wake up. But don’t lose all hope, lovers of the brief respite that the snooze offers — if not overdone, there are ways that snoozing can help or be properly used, according to researchers.
The anti-snooze arguments
The most basic anti-snooze argument is a straightforward one — and one that especially applies to those who like to hit the button over and over, dragging out the waking process for an hour. Most sleep scientists agree that you’d be better off getting real rest for that hour.
But it gets more complicated than that.
Perhaps the most insidious snooze effect hits those who are already overtired. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you’re more likely to fall back into the beginning of a sleep cycle after hitting the button, as a popular AsapScience video on the topic explains. This kicks in the production of hormones that encourage deep sleep. And as psychologist Maria Konnikova writes in the New Yorker, the beginning of a sleep cycle “is the worst point to be woken up,” leaving us feeling like we slept poorly in the first place.
To make matters worse, psychology professor and behavioural economist Dan Ariely argues that by hitting the snooze button repeatedly, we’re training our minds to be confused by the alarm sound. Instead of recognising it as the “get out of bed” tone, it’s the “just a few minutes more” sound — something that can continue indefinitely.
But is an extra nine minutes all that bad? (Lore has it that back when alarm clocks were mechanical, the snooze button was attached to the part controlling minutes, so it was traditionally set to nine for the longest rest possible, a tradition that modern smartphone makers have reportedly held to.)
Go on, have a snooze
“Snoozing is not a great evil,” David Dinges, chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, tells The Wall Street Journal. “The extra 10 minutes you get by snoozing can actually help to gently awaken the mind, rather than jolt it back to wakefulness.”
Dinges says that if you aren’t letting yourself fall totally back asleep but instead are using that snooze time to gently awaken, that’s not so bad. If you’re so tired that you’re going to go right back to sleep, snoozing is not going to do you any favours, but if it’s just an insurance policy as you let yourself awaken, it may do no harm.
It might even make things better if it happens that you were jerked awake from a particularly deep sleep cycle to hit snooze, neuroscientist and sleep researcher Jeanne Duffy told Daniel Engber at Popular Science in 2015. You don’t want to interrupt a REM cycle with a snooze, since you might kickstart a new sleep cycle process if you fall asleep again — but if you woke up in the middle of slow-wave sleep (a deeper cycle), a brief snooze might give you a short time in REM that transitions you to being more awake.
In an ideal world, we’d sleep according to our natural chronotype, which would let us go to sleep and wake at the time that best fit our own personal biological needs (some of us are always going to be earlier or later risers than others).
But we don’t live in that world, so we have to make do with what we can.
Snoozing repeatedly is clearly not going to do ourselves any favours. But not all indulgences are bad. Taking nine minutes to stretch your body and your mind, letting yourself wake up, and having that snooze alarm as an insurance policy isn’t going to do much harm — provided you aren’t so exhausted you’ll go right back to sleep in the first place.
More from Kevin Loria:
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