You Snooze, You Lose: Why Hitting the Snooze Button Can Derail Your Entire Day

You Snooze, You Lose:

Why Hitting the Snooze Button Can Derail Your Entire Day

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You hear your alarm go off at 6:30 A.M., and you groggily tap the snooze button, sinking back into the fluffy, cotton covers. Encased in the blankets like a wool burrito, you drift off into a delicious few minutes of sleep, savoring every second. The next time you’re awakened by the ringer, however, you don’t feel more rested. Instead, you’re more dazed and drowsy than ever. What happened? Do you need to hit the “snooze” button again?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, hitting that tempting option on your phone doesn’t lead to a more rested state. Research has shown that snoozing actually causes sleep inertia – a physiological state of impaired cognitive and motor performance that is present immediately after awakening. There are a few reasons for poorer functioning caused from pressing that button, ranging from the physiological to the psychological.

Interrupting the Sleep Cycle

Throughout a night of sleep, a person typically progresses through a series of four to five sleep cycles. Each sleep cycle consists of four stages, including one REM stage and three non-REM stages. When you awake, hit the snooze button, then fall back to sleep, you’re more likely to fall back into the beginning of a sleep cycle. This translates into the production of hormones that encourage deep sleep.

This means that you’re starting to dip into a deep slumber, only to be rudely awoken by the alarm ten minutes later. According to psychologist Maria Konnikova, the beginning of a sleep cycle “is the worst point to be woken up,” resulting in us feeling like we slept poorly.

There’s another piece of useful information that can be drawn from the sleep cycle. If you often find yourself waking up feeling groggy, the trouble may be that you’re waking up at the wrong part of your sleep cycle. To remedy this, try setting your alarm a few minutes later, or a few minutes earlier. Trial and error will help you find your sweet spot, and once you do, stick to a regular sleep schedule.

Our Brains Become Confused

On a behavioral level, hitting the snooze button bewilders our minds. Psychology professor and behavioral economist Dan Ariely posits that by hitting snooze, we’re training our minds to be confused by the alarm sound. Our minds like consistency, and when we press that button, instead of recognizing the alarm sound as the cue to “get out of bed,” it becomes the tone for “let’s sleep for a few minutes more.” This of course means that each time you hear your alarm go off, your brain will expect to get “just a few more” minutes of sleep, making you never want to step out of bed.

The more you snooze, the more confused your body and brain will get, which means you’ll feel more out of it when you actually wake up, even though you got more sleep. Furthermore, this type of grogginess and sleep inertia can last for up to two to four hours, leaving you feeling unproductive even after you’ve showered, breakfasted, and gone into the office.

Throwing off Your Sleep Schedule

By pressing that alluring button, you’re changing the times you get up every day. On Monday, you may awake at 7:00 AM, but on Tuesday, you may press the snooze button three times, leaving your bed at 7:30 AM. This inconsistency throws off your internal clock, and may mean that your body won’t know when to start feeling sleepy. You’ll likely start going to sleep later, resulting in more sleep deprivation.

Getting a full night of peaceful, uninterrupted sleep is extremely important and beneficial, both to health and wellbeing. Not getting enough sleep results in fatigue, which has been linked to poorer and riskier decision making. Dr. Timothy Roehrs, the Director of research at the Sleep Disorders Research Center, found in a study that the sleepy subjects made riskier decisions that put them at risk of losing money, while the alert subjects made more prudent choices.

So What is a Person to do?

The best way to counter this problem is to set your alarm for the time you have to get up, and then to actually get up when it goes off. It will help to set it for the same time every day, for your body to establish an internal schedule. Do this for a prolonged period of time, and the consistency will ensure that you’ll feel naturally sleepy at the end of the day, meaning you’ll be sleeping at your bedtime when your body needs it. This in turn will make it more likely for you to wake up naturally, unprompted by an alarm (and of course, no snooze button!).

Kate Chia

Editorial Intern

An NYU graduate, Kate has a passion for all things writing-related, with particular interest in creative nonfiction, psychology, and health. She had an article published in the NYT about her astereotypical Asian parents. Outside of work, she enjoys indie folk music, thriller movies, and promoting gender equality.

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