The reality is that we really should ditch the snooze button and those nine extra delicious but useless minutes of sleep our iPhones tease us with. Interrupted sleep doesn’t translate to actual rest. A 2014 study in the journal Sleep Medicine showed that people who woke up four times during an eight-hour sleep were no better rested than people who slept only four hours. “Even though you’re electing to return to sleep when you hit snooze, the sleep you get is typically low-quality, light sleep,” says Deirdre Conroy, the clinical director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at the University of Michigan.
There’s also the issue of morning grogginess, known medically as sleep inertia—this happens whenever you wake up but is often worsened by repeatedly smashing the snooze button. Pulling yourself out of sleep multiple times each morning allows the grogginess to stick around longer. “Deficits in cognitive performance can last anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours,” says Kate Sprecher, a sleep researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder.
But for most people, science couldn’t be less important when that first alarm goes off in the morning. The dread of getting up bests any motivation to bounce out of bed. You just need a few more minutes. So we wondered if there was a harm-reduction approach—a way to indulge our desperate need to snooze without making ourselves more groggy than necessary. Here's what we found.
Stay cozy, but keep those eyes open
Try reaching a sort of middle ground where you hit snooze but just lie in bed awake. (You can try some light stretching to avoid falling back asleep.) If you lie in bed but don’t sleep, you're less likely to fall into the wake-snooze-wake-snooze trap. This time spent awake in bed allows sleep inertia to fade before you start moving. Sprecher cautions to do this only if you have the time, and she warns you shouldn’t count this time into your sleep total. “Don’t kid yourself that the time you get out of bed is the time that you’ve woken up,” she says. “Think about how much time you’re spending actually asleep, not how much time you’re just in bed.” Don’t try this if you struggle with insomnia. Insomniacs should learn to think of their bed as a place only for sleeping, and lying awake is counterproductive.
More from Tonic:
Make your alarm your back-up method
Circadian rhythms, our bodies' daily cyclical changes produced by our biological clock, wire us to sleep during darkness and wake during daylight. Taking advantage of daylight can make your wake-up routine less torturous. Assuming you want to get up sometime after the sun rises, keep your curtains open when you go to bed. The daylight will naturally start to wake you up, and your alarm can be a sort of safety net. When you instinctively hit snooze, you might not feel the need to fall back asleep.
Upgrade your alarm
Most alarms yank you out of sleep. The suddenness of it makes the snooze button all the more irresistible. But dawn simulators use light that gradually increases in brightness to ease your wake up before the alarm sounds. The transition from sleep to awake will feel much less abrupt, and a 2014 study in The European Journal of Applied Physiology demonstrated these alarms make sleep inertia less damaging. Although some models cost hundreds of dollars, there are models in the $30 range. You can hit snooze on the audible alarm on dawn simulators, but hopefully the gradual light will make that unnecessary.
Check your phone at night without ruining your sleep
The blue light from your phone can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. “It shuts down the production of melatonin, which is a hormone that tells our body what time it is,” Conroy says. If you’re like most people and you're still going to check your phone at night, try using a blue light filter. Switching to warmer colors at night is a lot easier on your eyes and is less likely to disrupt circadian rhythms. For your laptop, download free f.lux software.
Address the real problem
A healthy adult needs between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. Getting to bed earlier will make getting up easier, and eventually you will settle into a routine. You might even start waking up without an alarm.
But be patient with achieving better sleep habits. “Shifting your clock to fall asleep earlier takes time,” says Kimberly Fenn, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State who researches sleep and learning. “I would recommend trying to go to bed 15 minutes earlier every night until you find that you are waking up naturally at the time that you need to be awake.”
If you do decide to kick the snooze button, there’s a variety of alarms that force you out of bed. If you don’t want to buy a new alarm, there are smartphone apps that specialize in forcing you up. Getting out of bed with no (or one) snooze is tough at first, but it’ll actually be easier to fall asleep that night, which helps address the overarching problem.
“If you’re using snooze because you’re just so tired you can’t rip yourself from bed, that’s probably a sign you’re not getting enough sleep,” Sprecher says. “When you’re hungry, it’s usually a sign you haven’t eaten enough. When you’re thirsty, it’s usually a sign you need some water.”
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of Tonic delivered to your inbox.