Hitting Snooze: Why You Shouldn't
When the alarm jerks you out of a sound sleep and you grope blindly for your clock or phone, the next choice you make can have a significant impact on how you feel for the first part of your day. Do you turn off your alarm, stretch, and get out of bed? Or do you choose to snooze, and hit that button that buys you another ten minutes of shut-eye? Or are you a multi-snoozer, who sets the alarm extra early just so you can hit snooze several times? What you choose to do when your alarm rings, can make more of a difference in your day than you’d expect.
Snooze and lose?
You may think you are doing yourself a favor by allowing the extra ten minutes of dozing time before dragging yourself out of bed, but hitting the snooze button could be a mistake. One very basic reason that sleep researchers generally agree the snooze button does more harm than good is the simple fact that a further ten minutes of deep sleep is more restorative to your body than allowing yourself to fall back into a doze for ten or more minutes. You might argue that it’s easier to give yourself the gift of a few extra minutes to rest before beginning your day, and on the surface that seems right. But is there something else going on beneath the surface, inside our bodies, that not many of us are aware of? The answer is yes, and it has to do with our body’s natural sleep cycle.
The sleep cycle
While we once believed that people simply fell asleep and slept and dreamed throughout the night, in 1968 two researchers, Allan Rechtschaffen and Anthony Kales, were able to define five separate stages of sleep: four non-REM stages and the REM stage of sleep. According to WebMD, we consistently cycle through these stages throughout the night, with stages 3 and 4 of non-REM sleep being our deepest and most restorative sleep, and REM stages being important for our brain. Dreaming occurs during REM, or Rapid Eye Movement Cycles.
Interrupting the sleep cycle
In a perfect world, we’d most likely follow the pattern of our ancient ancestors and allow our natural circadian rhythm to dictate our sleep; meaning we’d go to sleep shortly after it turns dark, and awaken naturally with the morning light. Unfortunately, we've had to adapt to many changes, including the advent of electric lights and alarm clocks to circumvent our natural circadian rhythm. So what exactly happens when we choose to snooze, rather than sleeping until the alarm goes off and then getting out of bed?
According to Mary A. Carskaden, PHD, of Brown University, what you are doing if you are repeatedly hitting the snooze button was once known as drockling, or dropping in and out of sleep. Two things are occurring simultaneously that may make awakening more difficult, instead of easier, by giving yourself time to snooze. First, if you allow yourself to drift back to sleep after the first alarm, you are tricking your body into thinking that your initial awakening was a false alarm. You will automatically begin the routine of sleep cycles that would naturally occur, with your body preparing you for the deep sleep stages by releasing the proper hormones. Then when your alarm goes off again, you may force yourself out of bed only to find that you have a much more difficult time waking up. You may believe it’s because you need another ten minute snooze, but the opposite is what’s actually happening. You are now fighting a cocktail of deep sleep hormones that may make your next several hours much groggier than they would have been had you gotten up after the first alarm.The second thing you are doing, according to psychology professor Dan Ariely, is training your mind to be confused by the alarm sound. Instead of instantly recognizing that the alarm means it’s time to rise, your brain will begin to interpret the alarm as telling you, “It’s okay. You can still sleep.” This results in many people oversleeping as they hit the snooze button more often than they’d intended.
Is it always wrong to choose the snooze?
No. According to David Dinges, Chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, it’s okay to hit the snooze button if you approach it the right way. Instead of allowing yourself to fall back to sleep after hitting snooze, you can instead use that extra time to stretch, rest, and allow yourself to slowly awaken. In that case, the snooze button is functioning only to cushion the blow of having to leave your warm bed, rather than telling your brain that it’s okay to stay in it.