Why hitting the snooze button is bad for your health

Do your New Year's resolutions include waking up earlier or sleeping in? An author explains why hitting the snooze button is bad for your health.
Despite the temptation to hit the snooze button each morning, a recent article suggests it might actually be bad for you in the long run. (iStock)

You're either a morning person or you aren't — it's that simple.

For those forced into getting up early, hitting the snooze button can be just another part of their morning routine, akin to starting the coffeemaker or brushing their teeth. But in a recent article in the New Yorker, author and writer Maria Konnikova says snoozers are, in fact, losers.

"The thing about snooze buttons that most of us don't understand is that instead of giving us an extra, precious few minutes of sleep, they're robbing us of a lot of mental clarity," Konnikova said in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener last week. "Every time you press it, if you happen to drift off you're plunged back into the beginning of the sleep cycle, which is the absolute worst point from which to wake up."

In her article, Konnikova says the harder someone feels it is for them to wake up, the worse they think they've slept.

Despite what it may feel like when the alarm goes off, if you keep a regular schedule your body has been preparing to wake up for about one to two hours before the alarm goes off — and restarting the sleep cycle by hitting snooze messes with that.

"You end up right back to where it began and you're making all those preparations for nothing. You end up being even sleepier, even groggier than you would have been had you just dealt with it and gotten up right away," Konnikova said.

Sleep inertia at fault

The culprit behind the grogginess making it so tempting to hit snooze is sleep inertia.

First coined in 1976, the term refers to the period between being woken and being fully awake.

While the brain-stem arousal, or the parts responsible for basic physical functioning, is able to hop to action almost immediately, the cortical regions take a bit longer to get going.

The prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and self-control, is part of those cortical regions that take a bit longer to jump to action and so the ability to make rational decisions decreases — hence the ease of the decision to hit the snooze button.

It can take up to two hours for the prefrontal cortex to wake up, but can take even longer for children and teenagers.

And unfortunately, Konnikova says there's nothing you can do about that.

"Sleep inertia is something that is just going to be with us as long as we're waking up not with the light-dark cycle, not when we should be by our internal circadian clock, but by the socially-mandated time."


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