Hitting the ‘Snooze’ Button May Help You Feel Less Sleepy

A man looks at his phone while in bed.
Elena Grigorovich/Getty Images
  • Hitting the “snooze” button is a common sleep habit, particularly for younger people.
  • Some experts have questioned if the habit can disrupt healthy sleeping.
  • New research suggests that snoozing could actually be beneficial to some sleepers.

You snooze, you lose — right?

Conventional wisdom says that that snooze button isn’t good for you. You might have heard something about it messing with your deep sleep patterns. Perhaps you’ve been scolded at some point in your life by a disapproving early riser for hitting that button one too many times. 

No matter the scenario, there’s a sense that the snooze button is bad. You should just wake up. Sure, humans are creatures of habit; keeping our wake and sleep times consistent seems like fair advice, especially if you’re feeling tired or groggy in the morning.

So, having the snooze button, the sleepy person’s perpetual frenemy, within reach is an easy way to disrupt your sleep cycle, right?

Maybe not.

The science of snooze

New research published this week in the Journal of Sleep Research indicates that hitting the snooze button — even a few times — probably isn’t as bad for your sleep as you might think. For some people, late risers, it could even be beneficial to ward off so-called “sleep inertia,” that awful morning stupor that can linger well past your first cup of coffee.

In two studies — one a self-reported survey on the sleeping habits of “snoozers,” and the other a small laboratory-conducted sleep study — researchers found that hitting the snooze button didn’t seriously affect sleep quality, nor did it cause a significant loss in overall sleeping time. 

“This study affirms that if a person has a ‘snooze’ as a part of their routine they are not causing harm in regard to their total sleep architecture as a whole or relating to functioning later in the day,” said Dr. Sara E. Benjamin, Medical Director of Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center and Instructor of Neurology. Benjamin wasn’t affiliated with the research.

In the first study, researchers interviewed more than 1,700 individuals about their sleep and waking habits. More than two-thirds of respondents (69%), reported using the snooze button or setting multiple alarms “sometimes.” The most common reason given for snoozing was feeling too tired or being unable to wake up with the first alarm. A significant portion (17.4%) said they did it just because it “feels good,” and a similar number (16.6%) noted that they wanted to “wake up more slowly.”

Studying “habitual snoozers”

The second part of the research was a sleep study that involved 31 “habitual snoozers” who spent three nights sleeping in a lab. The average age of participants was about 27. Age is important for sleep studies because younger people tend to have “later chronotypes,” meaning they tend to rise and go to bed later than older people. 

“Younger individuals are more likely to be evening people. This would in turn affect how tired they are in the morning and the extent to which they feel the need to snooze,” said Tina Sundelin, lead researcher and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University in Sweden.

The sleep study also only recruited healthy sleepers. It controlled for some sleep issues by disqualifying individuals who already had poor sleep quality, had difficulty sleeping in places other than their own bed, or were heavy snorers.

The participants underwent two rounds of trials in which, upon waking, they were asked to solve math problems and other simple cognitive tests like word memorization. On one day the participants were instructed to use their snooze button three times for the final thirty minutes of sleep time. On the second day, they were instructed to simply sleep the full amount of time and wake with their alarm.

The researchers also measured cortisol in the participants’ saliva after waking. Cortisol is a hormone that, among other things, plays an important role in waking, specifically the “cortisol awakening response,” during which cortisol spikes 15-45 minutes after waking. Higher levels of cortisol correlate with feeling awake and alert, whereas low cortisol levels mean feeling sleepy.

Math in the morning

Researchers didn’t observe any significant associations between cortisol levels and snoozing. Snoozers did have slightly higher cortisol levels upon waking, but the difference disappeared forty minutes after waking.

On the day when participants got to snooze, they performed better on the cognitive tests, but got slightly less sleep.

“After snoozing participants were slightly better at a speed-math test and a memory test,” said Sundelin. “The significance of these findings is that snoozing does not seem to be as bad as previously believed, but that there might be a tradeoff, where a bit of disturbed sleep in the morning may help you ward off some sleep inertia.”

But, surprisingly, despite performing better on some cognitive tests, snoozers didn’t actually feel less sleepy — the number one reason for snoozing in the first place.

“Potentially, these individuals will always feel sleepy upon waking, regardless of waking style,” concludes the research. “Even though participants did not report feeling less sleepy…the slower awakening still improved their cognitive abilities.”

All of this to say: people who like to snooze, might just be better off hitting that snooze button after all, and it doesn’t appear to have deleterious effects on sleep quality.

“Try to find a good balance between your sleep duration and your snooze time. As long as you’re getting sufficient sleep beforehand you’re probably ok to snooze for 20-30 minutes if you enjoy it,” said Sundelin.

Benjamin however cautions that these conclusions should only be drawn for healthy sleepers.

If a person feels sleepy every morning and uses snooze as a crutch but is still sleepy all day, they should speak to their physician to be assessed for a primary sleep disorder, she said.

The bottom line

Two new studies investigated sleep habits of people who like to snooze in the morning.

The research suggests that snoozing in the morning is just fine, even beneficial for some sleepers. It wasn’t associated with a significant loss in sleep time or worsened sleep quality.

The study was limited to healthy sleepers, so people with sleep disorders or daily fatigue should still speak to their doctor.

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