It’s 6.30am and after a long holiday break, your alarm clock is insistently telling you it’s time to get out of bed. For many people – me included – the automatic reaction is to hit the snooze button, often more than once.
But while it might feel like those extra minutes leave you more rested, morning snoozes can leave you feeling groggier and less alert. And late.
Sleep is regulated by two mechanisms: a homeostatic process based on prior sleep and wake, and a circadian process commonly referred to as our 24-hour body clock. These processes work together to influence when we go to sleep and get up, and sleep structure during the night.
Throughout the night, sleep cycles between deep sleep and light sleep, with each cycle lasting approximately 90 to 100 minutes. Deep sleep – which is difficult to wake from – dominates in the early parts of sleep, while light sleep – which is easier to be woken from – is more common closer to natural waking.
Each time we fall asleep, sleep starts at the beginning of the cycle.
You snooze, you lose
Shortly before waking, our sleep becomes lighter, our core body temperature rises and levels of hormones such as cortisol increase. If we were to sleep naturally without that pesky alarm clock, these factors would allow our bodies to gradually prepare for waking.
When we use an alarm clock, we may be woken during the middle of a sleep cycle when our bodies have not had time to fully prepare us for waking. This may lead to an increase in sleep inertia, the groggy feeling you have immediately upon waking, and often the inevitable snoozing cycle.
So when you hit snooze and fall back asleep, your sleep cycle starts from the beginning. Except this time when your alarm goes off, if you’re in a deeper stage of sleep, it’s a lot harder to wake up.
The end result is that the last proportion of your sleep becomes highly fragmented. This means you miss out on the recovery benefits of consolidated sleep, and your ability to function effectively during the rest of the day may be impaired.
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