How Hitting the Snooze Button Messes With Your Mind

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As far as morning guilty pleasures go, hitting the snooze button ranks up there with a breakfast made entirely of bacon or ordering one of those sugary Starbucks drinks with a bajillion words in its name. On the one hand, you know it’s not the most responsible thing to do — but on the other hand, it feels deliciously decadent.

But as behavioral scientist Dan Ariely wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal column, snoozing for an extra round (or three) doesn’t just make your morning routine a little more hectic; it actually messes with your mind, making each morning wakeup harder than it needs to be.

Ideally, Ariely explained, the alarm clock should function as a type of conditioning, training you to react to its signal. “In general, our bodies do better when they can get used to a single clear rule: Get out of bed the moment the alarm sounds,” he wrote. Think of Pavlov’s dog, drooling at the sound of a buzzer because he knows it means food is coming. In the same way, if you regularly get out of bed when the alarm goes off, you learn to associate its beeps with the act of waking up, and the process eventually becomes less of a struggle.

But “when we play with the snooze button,” Ariely continued, “our bodies get a confused message: Sometimes we hear the beeping and get up, sometimes we hear it and stay put for 10 more minutes, sometimes we lie there for another 20 minutes, and so on.” Hitting snooze, in other words, disrupts that mental link between the alarm and the need to wake up, making it harder for you to learn how to drag yourself out of bed on time.

Besides, as my colleague Drake Baer has written in Fast Company, snoozing doesn’t really offer any short-term benefits, either. It may be nice in the moment, but sleep punctuated by constant interruptions isn’t even very useful — five-minute increments don’t leave you enough time to enter the deep, restorative sleep that leaves you feeling refreshed. Better to just set the alarm for when you actually need to get up, and know that the sound means it’s time to get moving. It’s like the sugar-free oatmeal of sleep habits: not that enjoyable in the moment, but in the long run, you’ll be better for it.