For a long time, I used to joke that if I ever had a band, I would name it Tap to Snooze. Seeing, and subsequently pressing, "tap to snooze" on my iPhone was, for years, just a part of my daily life. It was the next-best thing to sleeping in with no wake-up time, as I would on weekends (which was part of the snooze cycle). Monday through Friday I would tap away—always just tap, tap, tappin' to snooze, sometimes six times in a morning. Then I learned about a terrifying sleep documentary that—to keep with the sleep theme—woke me up to my unhealthy sleep habits. National Geographic's Sleepless in America completely opened my eyes and introduced me to a national sleep expert who explains that the single best sleep habit you can adopt for yourself is waking up at the same time every day (including weekends). I've since learned a lot about how truly counterproductive it is to press snooze when your alarm goes off, and why it's so important not to.
Why do you press snooze? The simple motivation behind anyone pressing the snooze button is wanting to keep sleeping. Because you still feel tired when the alarm goes off—you're not ready to get out of bed, you want "just five more minutes" or "20 more minutes," because you still feel sleepy and exhausted. You want more sleep, to feel less tired. The problem? You're not actually going to feel less tired by sleeping past the snooze button because you're not getting the kind of sleep that matters. It's not restful and restorative. In fact, it's going to confuse your system, interfere with your sleep cycle, and make you more groggy and sluggish, both that very day and long-term. Essentially, by pressing snooze, you're setting your body up for the literal opposite of what you are hoping to achieve by pressing it. Here's why:
How Hitting "Snooze" Affects Your Sleep Cycle
Pressing snooze means you're waking up at different times, all the time. Maybe it's five minutes one day and 17, 25, or 30 another. Maybe it's a full 40 minutes on Monday, or up to an hour when your morning meeting gets canceled. Whatever the erratic pattern of snoozing may be, by not setting one specific time to wake up and waking up then, you are throwing off your body's internal clock, and its natural circadian rhythm is then all out of sync. When you're enabling your body to operate to the cycle of a consistent clock, it does things on your behalf to make waking up easier. About an hour before you wake up, sleep naturally becomes lighter, and your body starts to send signals to your brain that it will be time to wake up soon and feel alert. When you're sleeping past the alarm and snoozing at your daily whim, your body isn't able to predict that consistent wake-up time and send the appropriate signals for you to get up and go at the right time. Primarily, those signals include a rise in your body temperature and cortisol level, which makes you feel more energetic and ready to hit the ground running. Nor when you're snoozing left and right is your body able to send the appropriate signals for you to feel sleepy at night, so you won't get the signals to wind down and get into bed at a decent hour.
Even if you're really great about keeping a sleep schedule, when you press snooze here and there and let yourself go back to sleep, your body isn't prepared to wake you up naturally a second time. So when the alarm goes off again, however many minutes after you first woke up, your body and brain aren't sending those natural cues to wake up, because it doesn't know what's happening—so you're going to feel more tired.
And then there's the part about disrupting a sleep cycle. When you wake back up after having already woken up (and then fallen back asleep) earlier, you're rudely interrupting a sleep cycle that's trying to fulfill itself; doing so will result in a hazy, groggy state that can last up to four hours after waking up.
The Solution to "Snooze"
So the bottom line? You snooze, you really do lose. The solution is to set your alarm to the latest possible time that still gives you time to get ready and head to work or school on time. Think about it this way: Let's say you set your alarm for 7:15 most mornings, but when it goes off, you snooze five, then 10, then 15 minutes, because you know that you actually have until 7:30 to get up without being late. Then just set the alarm for 7:30 in the first place, silly!
Lauren Hale, a sleep researcher and associate professor of preventive medicine at the Stony Brook Medicine Program of Public Health, says "I know people who set their alarm 30 minutes earlier than it needs to be, so they can have an extra half hour of restless sleep in which they are regularly having to check the clock. Who wants that?! You want your sleep to be as deep and uninterrupted as possible. Hitting the snooze button after you first hear your alarm isn't going to help you get the deep restorative sleep that you are seeking. "
Hale says if you are still having a hard time waking up in the morning, assess what time you are going to bed, or think about the quality of your sleep. "There are a lot of behavioral, social, and environmental factors that you can change to help improve your sleep so your precious morning minutes won't involve battling with a buzzer." Check out the best environmental sleep conditions, and be sure you're giving yourself enough time to wind down, sans electronics.