Sleep experts explain why hitting snooze causes drowsiness during the day.

Claire Harmeyer
Jan 21, 2021 @ 5:53 pm
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I'm a perpetual snoozer. In other words, I hit the snooze button at least twice every morning. When that irritating trill rings through my silent bedroom at 7 a.m., I frantically reach for my phone to shut it off and snuggle back into my pillow for nine more minutes of sleep—once, twice, often three times. However, even on mornings when I'm alert at the sound of my first alarm, I still feel the need to hit snooze and catch a few more z's out of habit. But recently I started wondering: Are those extra minutes of shuteye actually beneficial?

To answer my own question, I proposed a personal challenge: I wouldn't allow myself to hit the snooze button for an entire week. Going cold turkey seemed extreme, but I was curious how quitting my snooze habit would impact my energy level in the mornings—or perhaps even later into the day. So, I began my snooze-free week.

The first morning, I hastily tapped snooze as a reflex. However, once I rolled over, I remembered the vow I made and forced myself to sit up, groaning and cursing myself for coming up with the idea. But as the days went on and I got used to nixing the snooze button, it became slightly easier to step out of bed each morning at the first trill of my alarm. Okay, I didn't eagerly spring out of bed like Tracy Turnblad in the opening scene of Hairspray, but I at least had the energy to sit up and keep my eyes open without feeling sluggish.

By day three of my little experiment, I felt energized after stepping out of bed without hitting snooze and found myself yawning way less than I used to throughout the day. And once I did some digging into the science behind hitting the snooze button, I realized its impact was much bigger than I realized.

As it turns out, that once-glorious snooze button was never doing me any favors, according to sleep experts.

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When we first go to bed, we fall into a light sleep. Next, once we enter our deepest sleep, called REM (rapid eye movement), our brain is highly active and our body is getting the most restorative sleep of the night. We cycle through REM several times each night, and by the time our alarm wakes us up, we're typically nearing the end of our last REM cycle and, therefore, ready to wake up for the day.

However, if we hit snooze and fall back asleep, we trick our body into thinking it's about to get deep sleep (REM) again. Then, once we're awoken by the alarm ten minutes later, we feel out of sorts and groggy—aka the experience of sleep inertia.

Sleep inertia typically lasts for around 15 to 30 minutes after we get up, but according to a study conducted by Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, it can last up to two to four hours if you wake up during deep sleep—like you do when you wake up after pressing snooze. So sleep inertia is the culprit behind my constant yawning throughout the day—and, to take it a step further, hitting the snooze button is the cause of extended sleep inertia. Eliminating this fuzzy period of time between hearing my first alarm and falling back asleep for several minutes did wonders for awakening my mind and body in the mornings.

Plus, in the grand scheme of things, an extra few minutes of sleep won't help you feel any more rested, as Dr. Eric Nofzinger, former director of the Sleep Neuroimaging Research Program at the Pittsburg School of Medicine, points out.

Instead of reaching for the snooze button, Dr. Primeau recommends sitting up in bed for a few minutes and letting light into your bedroom, whether that means opening your curtains or turning on a lamp. She even notes that looking at your phone can alert your mind to wake up, too, because of the blue light that phones emit. Above all, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (yes, even on weekends) will improve your overall energy level.

However, if you're not getting good sleep and feel inclined to hit the snooze button consistently, you might be experiencing a sleep disorder. Both Dr. Nofzinger and Dr. Primeau recommend speaking to a doctor if this is your experience.

Since my week-long experiment, I've willingly stuck to my no-snooze-button rule. And although I sometimes miss those extra ten minutes in my warm bed each morning, it's clear that it was time to say goodbye to my old friend the snooze button. After all, I feel far more energized and less groggy without it.