The extra 5 minutes aren’t worth it: How hitting snooze confuses your brain
The people who refer to snooze alarms as “agents of Satan” are probably joking. But on the surface, it is hard to explain what else could be behind the mysterious power of the snooze button. Nine extra minutes of sleep? Who needs that? But when you’re sleeping like the proverbial baby and the alarm goes off, the snooze button will have its way with you. Nine minutes? “Sign me up,” your brain says as it fights its way to be conscious enough to prompt your palm to tag the snooze button.
It seems good, so good. Unless you’re the roommate listening to the multiple incidents of an alarm going off every few minutes. Or until you realize snooze alarms don’t help you wake up at all. To the contrary— experts say the snooze button doesn’t add any restorative sleep to your day. And it may even hurt your chances of letting your body’s natural circadian rhythms do their very beneficial thing.
Here’s how the evil snooze button really works, along with some ways to kick the habit:
A teen habit run amok
While the snooze button fad began in the mid-1950s, it is still a habit many 21st-century dwellers take up in their teen years and never let go. There’s a scientific explanation for the timing, according to Steven Bender, Clinical Assistant Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at Texas A&M. “The use of snooze buttons often starts during the teenage years, when our circadian rhythms are altered somewhat, causing us to want to stay up later and get up later in the morning,” Bender, a facial pain specialist, explained in The Conversation.
But unlike purple hair or a fondness for bad movies, the snooze alarm can be harmful. Basically, hitting the snooze button interferes with our body’s sleep regulation, known casually as our “24-hour body clock.” It works with a homeostatic process to create your body’s sleep cycle, from letting your tired self know it’s time to hit the hay to indicating when it’s time to rise.
The snooze button v. your sleep cycle
In between falling asleep and waking, the same body chemicals set off two intermittent sleep cycles that take turns four to six times per night. The first, deep sleep, dominates in the early stages of your sleep cycle and is tough to wake up from. Light sleep, though, involves restorative REM (rapid eye movement) and is the most common cycle in the 90 to 100 minutes before you’d naturally wake.
And here’s how the snooze button creates such an agonizing response within the REM-to-deep sleep cycle. When you wake to the alarm and go back to sleep, you’re returned to deep sleep, because you’ve essentially started your sleep cycle all over again. When you fall back asleep for those 9 minutes, you don’t get any of the restorative benefits you would in the light sleep cycle that usually concludes your sleeping hours. And each “snooze” session makes you endure the agony of waking from a deep sleep when the alarm goes off. Then it starts all over when you hit snooze again. (And again, and again.) If this seems like a crummy way to start each and every morning, well, it is.
Stop the snooze button madness
The repetition can be downright confusing to your brain., according to Bender. The process “may serve to confuse the brain into starting the process of secreting more neurochemicals that cause sleep to occur, according to some hypotheses,” he told The Conversation.
Once you know you’re only hurting yourself with the snooze button, there is cause for optimism. There are plenty of pretty simple ways to stop using the sleep-damaging technique. For example, you can set an old-school alarm instead of a phone with a snooze option, or put the alarm so far across the room that you can’t hit the snooze easily. If you’ve aged out of back talking your parents and staying up all night texting your crush, it’s probably time to put this other habit from the teen years to rest, too.