Why Snoozing Actually Makes You Lose Sleep
Everyone snoozes, but it's not good for you
Every weekday night, like literal clockwork, I set my alarm for the morning. Sometimes I set several: There’s the idealized time, say, 7:57 a.m., which in my night-before positivity I select thinking I’ll get up “early” to churn through an hour or so of work before my more slovenly actual wakeup time of 8:30 (or 9). There’s the reminder time for that, 8:15—because I’m likely to inadvertently turn off the alarm in my still-dozing state—followed by the actual probable time of my wakeup, say, 8:30. In between all those times I also have the power of snooze. And oh, I use it. I use it like the queen of snooze. I snooze until I can’t snooze anymore, and then I break the established boundaries of snoozing and snooze still more.
In fact, a lot of other people do this too, or something quite similar to it. An unscientific poll on Facebook confirmed that most of us do not jump out of bed with the dawn and offer up a really good stretch to the gods of morning, all right-side-of-bed and cheery. Sure, there are the exceptions—”What about the portion of people who naturally wake up at such an ungodly hour they don't need to set an alarm? Not that I know any of them…” said a friend who probably had lunch by 6 a.m. today—but by and large most people snooze once, twice, or as many as five times, and some people set three or four or five different alarm times to allow them a slow re-emergence into consciousness, albeit by way of extremely obnoxious alarm sounds every few minutes.
Says one: “I have a really, REALLY hard time waking up in the morning, so I set three alarms to go off within five or ten- minutes of each other and then assume I will hit snooze on all of them at least once. Not just any alarm, either: at least one has to be Salt n Pepa's ‘Push It,’ because it's the only thing I've found that I will not just sleep through (while having nightmares about an alarm clock that won't stop going off, even when I throw it off a cliff and/or smash it with a baseball bat).”
There is, however, a nagging worry in my sleep-addled brain, and it’s not just over deadlines. Snoozing is bad for you. Right? I’ve heard it disturbs your REM sleep, it’s poor quality sleep, it keeps you from sleeping properly later, it’s just not advised. As a post at Lifehacker explains, “While you might think that hitting snooze will give you a chance to finish your natural sleep cycle and wake up feeling rested, that's not what happens. After you hit snooze and drift off, your brain starts its sleep cycle all over again. When the alarm goes off a second time, you're likely at an even deeper, earlier part of your sleep cycle, which results in you feeling even worse than you did the first time.” There’s a word for this, “sleep inertia,” which means “the feeling of grogginess and disorientation that can come from awakening from a deep sleep." Fun fact: “‘Drockling’ is the old, official term for dipping in and out of sleep in the early morning,” according to this piece in The Huffington Post. Been there, done that.
Dr. Matthew Ebben from the New York-Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell Sleep Center, is not, as you might guess, a fan of snoozing. “The snooze alarm is just a bad decision,” he told me. “Say you do that every day … what you’re saying to yourself is ‘I’m not sleeping enough at night.’ Your sleep is going to be more fragmented, it’s not going to be as restful. It’s sort of like a mind game—you know you need more sleep, but it’s not as good quality as it could be.” The solution is going to sleep earlier, but of course, had we all gone to sleep when we really intended to, life would be very different all around.
As for snoozing waking you out of REM sleep, Ebben was less concerned: “People think they have to take care of their REM sleep, but they don’t, it will rebound the next night. Our bodies know how to adapt to short-term sleep deprivation, but you want to avoid systematic deprivation.” If you’re snoozing a lot, it’s your cue that you need to sleep longer in general; you should set your alarm for exactly when you need to get up, and then do that—but unless you’ve got to get to the airport for a flight to Tulum, how is that even possible?
I turned to NYC Sleep Doctor Janet Kennedy, who admitted, “I’m not 100 percent anti-snoozing. I don’t like doing it and then going back to sleep, though. Personally, I allow myself one snooze, so I can get used to being awake before I get out of bed.” Janet Kennedy is a woman after my own heart. “I don’t like to get out of bed,” she says. “I need to get my head together.” But, she notes, “Everyone sleeps better on a schedule,” a fact that Ebben emphasized as well. We’re all a bit like babies, we need structure, sleep-wise. And of course snoozing throws that structure out the window, which is probably why I like it. “Let’s say you have trouble sleeping, then you change your alarm, you snooze, that makes it harder for you to sleep the next night,” says Kennedy. “If you’re having trouble sleeping, you should wake up at the normal time, you’ll rebound faster. Then there’s the whole other group who set their alarms early thinking they’ll go to the gym, but they just blow it off and snooze for 2 hours. Sleep is valuable too! Don’t pretend you’re a morning gym person!” I give Janet Kennedy many mental high fives.
If you have what you think of as a snoozing problem, keep in mind, it’s not all you—it’s your phone. “I would not advise anyone to check email from bed to get a jump on the day,” added Kennedy. “That bleeds into the restful experience you get. And it starts that you look at stuff at night, that’s a slippery slope into insomnia.” (If you can’t sleep at night, you have to snooze more!) “Get yourself an old-fashioned alarm clock,” she suggests. Both specialists also advised that when you wake up, you should drink water and let light into your apartment. You’ll trigger your body to stop producing melatonin, which means you could suddenly feel as chipper as someone in a mattress commercial, and stop wanting to snooze at all. (As if.)
If you really can’t give up snoozing, it’s not going to kill you, or even destroy your waking life, really. I plan to snooze if I feel like it, though I might also try a few other sleep-doctor-approved tricks, just to see how it goes. But there are only so many things in life that we truly adore, and snoozing certainly isn’t as bad as most of those. Or, as one pro-snoozer put it, “I love snoozing so very much. It doesn't feel bad for me. It feels fucking great.”