We’ve all been there: Your alarm goes off but you’re just not ready to wake up. Your eyelids feel like cement. Your bed is so warm. You hit the “snooze” button and drift off into blissful unconsciousness once more. But the snooze function will only delay your alarm for nine or 10 short minutes, and once those minutes are up, you’ll be jolted from sleep again. I’ve always looked at my alarm clock as a savior, and considered the snooze function a luxurious method of extending my rest a bit longer. According to a recent survey, I’m far from alone in these habits. But could my alarm clock actually be making me more tired? The results of this study certainly seem to suggest this possibility.
In this case, “snoozing” is defined as using multiple alarms to accomplish waking up. The act of snoozing is a mostly unstudied phenomenon, although medical professionals typically advise against it. A recent survey conducted by researchers at the University of Notre Dame and published in the journal Sleep in October sought to learn more; and the survey found that snoozing is very common, and also that people who use an alarm clock to wake up are more tired than those who wake up naturally.
“Most of what we know about snoozing is taken from data on sleep, stress, or related behaviors,” said Stephen Mattingly, lead author of the report. “Alarm clocks, smartphones, they all have snooze buttons. The medical establishment is generally against the use of snoozing, but when we went to look at what hard data existed, there was none. We now have the data to prove just how common it is — and there is still so much that we do not know.”
The study surveyed 450 American adults with full-time jobs. Participants completed daily surveys and a questionnaire, plus data was collected from wearable devices that measured each person’s sleep duration and heart rate.
According to this survey, 57 percent of participants were habitual snoozers, and women were 50 percent more likely to hit snooze than men. (It should be noted that research also suggests women need a little more sleep than men — which is perhaps why they’re more tired and thus inclined to snooze!) Snoozers in the Notre Dame survey also tracked fewer steps than other respondents, tended to be younger, and experienced more sleep disturbances.
The study additionally considered when participants preferred to go to bed and wake up. Night owls — a.k.a. those who found it difficult to wake up in the morning and had the most energy later in the day — were likelier to hit snooze and be more tired in general. Since the American work week primarily runs on a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule (ideal for an early bird who likes to wake and go to bed early), it’s no wonder night owls struggle more with their sleep routines.
Interestingly, when study respondents woke naturally, without the aid of any alarm, they slept longer and consumed less caffeine throughout the day.
The Survey Limitations
This survey had some obvious limitations — and more research is needed to understand any potential negative health impacts of alarm clocks and snoozing. Lead author Mattingly emphasizes that the best advice is for everyone to sleep as much as their body needs.
“Critically, these statistics are only representative of a small population that is likely to be in the best position with respect to sleep habits,” said Mattingly. “We have no idea about various age groups such as teenagers, lower-income households, or any of the populations that are historically more sleep-deprived than the respondents of this study. So, the odds are this is probably a conservative estimate of the wider population.”
Is waking up naturally the way to go?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly one in three Americans is not getting enough sleep. So, would it help if we ditched the alarm clock altogether? A 2020 survey from Each Night, a sleep health blog, found people who woke up without alarms were more likely to be well-rested, motivated, and have a better mood and outlook. Although this Notre Dame survey also showed respondents sleeping longer and drinking less caffeine upon waking sans alarm, the jury is still out on a definitive answer as to whether it’s a better method. Plus, many people have jobs, families, and responsibilities that would preclude us from simply sleeping until our bodies naturally woke up.
The Sleep Doctor, Dr. Michael Breus, agrees that an alarm clock can generally be detrimental to your sleep cycle, especially if you keep hitting snooze. “The snooze button is horrible for sleep,” says Breus. “The average snooze is about 7-9 minutes, and that is not enough time for your body to get back into a good deep sleep. So when you are snoozing, you are actually giving yourself light, sub-par sleep.”
Other experts believe sleep patterns depend on your chronotype — or natural sleep-timing preference — which is hardwired in your genes. “It is not a choice and it is very difficult to change,” Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Why We Sleep, told The Guardian. Some people are early birds (also called “larks”) and predisposed to waking up early, while others are night owls who naturally sleep in; and many people lie somewhere in between.
One thing is clear: Interrupted sleep is not good quality sleep — so the snooze button, which gives you mere minutes of rest before waking you up again, is probably not doing you any favors. Still, mine is like a security blanket, and I’m not likely to give it up anytime soon. As a bonafide night owl, I’ve rarely had a job that didn’t require me waking up early; which means that, for now, my alarm clock is also here to stay.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.