It’s Monday morning, in the dead of winter, and the alarm aggressively sounds sending a jolting reminder that it’s time to brave the cold and start your day. For many, rebelliously hitting the snooze button and catching a few extra winks can seem like a good idea in the moment. But is it really?
True, getting up without hitting the snooze can feel like torture in the moment, but according to science, giving in to the tempting allure of your snooze button is actually detrimental to your health.
The Science Behind Sleep Cycles
Hitting the snooze button is like playing a mean trick on your body. Sure, it may feel like you’re getting a bit more sleep, but in reality, you’re disrupting your body’s sleep/wake cycle and fooling it into believing it can re-enter sleep mode. Then, 9-minutes later when your alarm screams at you yet again, your body and brain are confused, creating a sense of grogginess known as sleep inertia.
Each night, when we slip into our comfortable, cozy beds and doze into a (hopefully) peaceful slumber, our bodies begin a series of sleep cycles. Each cycle lasts an average of 90 - 120 minutes (give or take) and moves through five distinct stages.
In the first stage, we are lightly sleeping and can be easily awoken. This is that mystical place between consciousness and sleep where savvy children ask their parents questions and get the ‘yes’ they want without their parents remembering.
During stage two, our heart rate and brain waves start to slow down, preparing us for stage three, where longer delta waves begin to appear, putting our bodies into a state known as slow-wave sleep. This is also when our body is actively making repairs and healing itself and where hormones are released and energy stores are replenished.
In stage four we experience deep, restful sleep, marked by drops in our body temperature and blood pressure. It’s also in this stage that waking becomes extremely difficult.
Each of these first four stages are categorized as non-REM sleep but they work to prepare our bodies and brains for stage five, where our breathing becomes more rapid and irregular, dreams occur, and REM sleep takes place.
During REM, we experience increases in eye movement, blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate. In addition, our brains are nearly as active in this stage as they are when awake. REM sleep is critical to our health and plays a role in storing memories, solidifying learning, and balancing our moods.
When people are deprived of REM sleep, they’ve been shown to have more migraines, lower pain thresholds, increased levels of daytime sleepiness, and poorer coping skills.
What happens when you hit the snooze?
Hitting the snooze can have several impacts on health and well-being. For one, when the snooze button is a regular part of your routine, it typically results in waking at different times each day. Doing so sends mixed messages to the body, making it difficult for our internal alarms to know when to sound.
Sometimes this is beyond our control - such as when we're waking extra early to catch a flight - but whenever possible, maintaining consistency in sleep/wake patterns is an essential move with proven health benefits, such as fewer instances of psychological distress and decreased daytime sleepiness.
In addition, when you hit the snooze you're opening up the potential for your body to fall back into a deep sleep cycle, compounding the groggy effects of sleep inertia that you’ll feel when you eventually pull your head from the pillow.
Essentially, instead of benefiting from a few more minutes of sleep, you’re actually making yourself more tired. And the more times you hit the snooze, the worse the sleep inertia will be. You’ll be wandering through your morning sleep-drunk, trying to fight your way through the grogginess with excessive amounts of caffeine.
An important aspect to be aware of… When your jarring alarm abruptly wakes you during a slow-wave sleep cycle (stage 3 or 4) you experience deeper levels of sleep inertia than if you were to wake during stages 1 or 2. As for the REM stage, waking during this period results in intermediate sleep inertia.
The challenge is that the effects of hitting the snooze can result in grogginess that lasts up to four hours, impacting cognitive function throughout that time. How can you increase your chances of waking during stages 1 or 2? By following #2 and #3 below, and going to bed at a time that allows enough time for you to get a solid night’s sleep.
7 Ways to Break Your Snooze Button Habit
1. Get up at the same time every day. Yes, every single day... even on the weekends. Doing so will entrain your sleep/wake cycle to rise and shine at the same time each day, loosening the grip that your snooze button currently has on you.
2. Keep a journal and track the number of hours you sleep each night, as well as the days when you feel the most rested and at your best. As an example, if after 30-days of tracking you determine that 7.5 hours of sleep is your optimal amount, you can then use this information to set your bedtime accordingly to allow for it. Using a wearable fitness tracker that also tracks sleep is a great solution for this as well. (I personally use a FitBit and love it.)
3. Create an evening routine with a dedicated “lights out” time. Predictable, repeatable routines that train the body to wind down can play a huge role in getting to bed earlier. Calming activities such as warm baths or showers, reading, and drinking chamomile tea can all help to wind down a busy day. Then, turn off the lights based on the time you rise and your optimal sleep duration. As an example, if 7.5 hours of sleep is your optimal amount and you have to be up at 6am, then turn the lights out at 10pm, which gives you 30 minutes to fall asleep and 7.5 hours to sleep.
4. Put your alarm out of reach. If you have to get up to turn the ear-bludgeoning sound of your alarm off, it’ll be easier to say to yourself “I’m already out of bed, so no need to get back in.”
5. Choose an energetic, inspiring song as your alarm. We all have favorite songs that speak to our souls and cause us to spontaneously burst into dance moves that we would publicly deny if ever asked. Use these energetic songs to your advantage by making them the first thing you hear when you wake and to help inspire you to start the day with gusto. Combine this with #4 and you’re well on your way to kicking the snooze habit forever.
6. Change the time that your alarm is set for. If you have a regular snooze habit, such as hitting the snooze 3 times each morning for a total of 27 minutes, then rather than creating a fragmented sleep pattern that results in more grogginess, just set your original alarm for 27 minutes later and get up without hitting the snooze. Then, when the alarm goes off remind yourself that you already got “extra” sleep and resist the temptation to hit the snooze.
7. Use multiple alarms. Whether you set two alarms on your phone spaced 1-minute apart or set one on your phone and a second on a fitness watch (as an example), the result of back-to-back alarms will help prevent you from falling back asleep.
BONUS: One bonus suggestion, which can be layered onto any of the above recommendations, is to leverage Mel Robbins’ simple yet powerful 5-Second Rule. Sometimes, this can be the propulsion needed to skyrocket your success.
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