Why Your Snooze Button Is A Deceitful Bastard

You’d like to think that snooze-sleep is like real sleep, but it isn’t.

Why Your Snooze Button Is A Deceitful Bastard
[Image: Flickr user Daryl Hoadley]

Oh, dear snooze button, how you tempt us: By squeezing out sleep in nine-minute margins, you allow us to give away the gift of good rest, increment by increment. What’s worse, while we’d like to think that those extra minutes provide just the same life-enriching rest as the pre-alarm state, they don’t.


Why? Because when you hear your alarm the first time, adrenaline and cortisol shoot through your body, triggering a stress response that makes you feel immediately alert. But if you lazily lay your head back down rather than wrestling it out of bed, you’ll be left disoriented and groggy, leaving you in a state of drunken sleep inertia, potentially for hours.

As the gifted geeks at ASAP Science illustrate, this is bad news for our waking lives.

When we acquiesce to the snooze, we’re left with other groggy, insidious outcomes: Our bodies get restored, our memories get consolidated, and our brains get cleaned during the deepest periods of sleep, called REM. But we only get these positives if our sleep is uninterrupted: If we interrupt with a handful of snoozes, we miss out on extra REM time.
This is why an extra hour of sleep has such tremendous benefits: The extra hour lets you get more of the restoration time.

Writing for Pacific Standard, Casey N. Cep captures the quiet tyranny of the snooze:

We think three or four snoozes are the equivalent of an extra 30 or 40 minutes of rest, but the patchy, interrupted sleep of snooze is worse than no sleep at all. Instead of the natural sleeping then waking, the snooze drags us into unhealthy, unsatisfying fits of trying to sleep and trying to rise, but failing to do either.

What to do about the snooze:

Get realistic about your waking: If you set your alarm early to accomodate snoozing, you’re going to have a tough time rousing. So set your alarm for when you can actually get up.

Instead of having a set bedtime, have a set wake-up time: It tells your body that it needs to get going at a consistent pace.


Give yourself an incentive: Our brains love rewards, so something you enjoy–like reading a favorite book, getting a brain-boosting yoga stretch in, or play an instrument–right after waking up.

If you must snooze, snooze longer: The first snooze alarm clock had a snooze setting of nine-minute intervals. But as sleep fragmentation experts will tell you, your body gets the most benefit from 20 minutes of uninterrupted extra rest.

Get a better alarm clock: Like one that uses light to slowly wake you. Or one that rolls around your room.

Hat tip: Pacific Standard


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.