Why the snooze button is bad for your healthIn a perfect world we wouldn't need alarm clocks. Every morning, we'd wake up at exactly the right time feeling refreshed and ready to leap out of bed. Sadly this is a fantasy for most people. We're slaves to our alarm clocks and to a lesser extent, the snooze button. Snoozing is a guilty pleasure and deep down we know it's not good for us. At best it's little more than a psychological crutch. But did you know that the snooze button can have more serious consequences, messing with your biological clock and ultimately making you feel more tired? Setting your alarm clock too early deprives you of vital REM sleep There are two main types of sleep, REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-REM). During NREM (also referred to as deep, or slow-wave sleep) your body and brain relax. REM, on the other hand is very much an active state. During REM your muscles twitch constantly and your brain exhibits high levels of electrical activity. At night we constantly move between these two states. Slow wave sleep occurs more frequently at the start of the night whilst REM sleep increases as morning approaches. In order to feel sleep's full restorative benefits you need to get your full quota of both REM and NREM. If you set your alarm much earlier than you intend to get up so that you can keep pressing snooze, you could be missing out on vital REM in the morning. Because once your alarm goes off, you've already disrupted your sleep cycle, and you're unlikely to fall back into REM again. The bottom line is, the snooze button can seriously affect your health. Disturbing your sleep in this way can impair your mental functioning throughout the day, affecting memory, reaction time and even your emotional state.
How to break the habitThe most common cause for snooze addiction is a straightforward lack of sleep. Waking at an inappropriate time causes sleep inertia - the groggy, transitional state before you're fully awake. Sleep inertia normally lasts for just a few minutes but can sometimes go on for hours. It is worst if you wake up during slow-wave sleep, where studies have shown the effects can be worse than being legally drunk. To minimize sleep inertia, first try to examine your own circadian rhythms ie your natural body clock. Are you a lark or an owl? Do you need 8 hours sleep or can you survive on 6 .5 hours? Next take a look at your current sleep habits. Are you practicing good sleep hygiene? Rather than trying to fight your natural instincts, try to establish a routine that works for you. Professor Kevin Morgan a scientist from Loughborough University's sleep research unit recommends focussing on setting a regular wake up time, rather than a fixed bedtime .
"If your sleep is vulnerable you would be much better advised to set your body clock to the same time every morning by always getting up at the same time. This tells your biological system when it needs to start and it works better than always going to bed at the same time in the evening."If you think there may have a deeper underlying issue to your sleep problems, you should consult your doctor or a sleep professional. However, if you just need a little extra to break your snooze habit, we've got a comprehensive list of tips, from quick solutions you can try in the short term to some serious behaviour modifying rituals guaranteed to get you to kick the snooze button habit.
1) Put your alarm clock out of reachThis is an old favourite, but works a treat. Put your alarm on the other side of the room so when it goes off you're forced to get out of bed. There are lots of variations on this theme, some people use two different alarm clocks, although I think this is only slightly better than pressing snooze.
2) Reward yourselfOur brains respond incredibly well to incentives, so if you give yourself some kind of enjoyable mental activity in the morning, you're less likely to want to drift off to sleep afterwards. Try to think of a reward that's mentally stimulating and enjoyable. Watching TV doesn't count as it's more of a passive activity. As soon as your alarm goes, switch on the lights and engage your brain for 5 or 10 minutes. When you're done your mind should be sufficiently occupied to stop you falling asleep again. Here's a few suggested activities if you're stuck for ideas:
- read your favourite book
- play a musical instrument
- check your email/Twitter/Facebook
- play a computer game
3) Wake up and smell the coffeeWe all know how caffeine acts as a powerful stimulant to your brain and nervous system. But did you know the effect can be triggered just by smelling a cup of coffee? Scientists tested the theory on rats and found that a sniff of coffee activates several genes in the brain in ways that reduce the effect of sleep deprivation. You can test the theory by getting a coffee machine with a timer; place it within sniffing distance and set it to start brewing 10 minutes before your alarm goes off. Not only will the aroma wake gently wake you up, you'll have a steaming cup of your favourite brew ready as soon as you get out of bed.
4) Heat up your roomIn the hour before waking, your body starts to gear up for action. Sleep becomes lighter, 'wake' hormones are released and body temperature starts to rise. But if the alarm goes off and your body’s not ready, you'll find it hard to leave your cozy warm bed. So on cold mornings when you need an extra bit of motivation, set the central heating to start warming the bedroom half an hour before your alarm, or get an electric heater with a simple timer.
5) Clocky, the alarm that forces you out of bedThe Clocky is a unique alarm clock that forces you to get out of bed whether you like it or not. Looking and sounding like a distant cousin of R2D2 on wheels, Clocky is an ideal gadget to help you quit your snooze habit. When the alarm goes off, the little creature jumps off your bedside table and starts running around the room making cute but annoying noisesalong the way. Clocky runs on carpet and hard floors, and sets off in a random direction every time.
6) Really loud alarm clockHeavy sleepers sometimes need more than a little persuasion to get out of bed. If that's sound like you, the only soution may be a really loud alarm clock. The king of loud alarms is the aptly named Sonic Boom SBB500ss Sonic Bomb. Packing a 113db extra loud alarm, this one could have a go at waking the dead. If the noise isn't enough, the Sonic Bomb comes with a 12 volt vibrating pad that you place under your mattress to shake you out of bed. You can also try shops that cater for the hard of hearing. Hearing Direct has a whole range of flashing, vibrating and very loud alarm clocks guaranteed to get you going in the morning.
7) Smart alarms wake you at just the right timeIn the last few years, a new breed of alarm clocks have emerged, promising to wake you at the optimum time to prevent you from feeling groggy in the morning. These 'smart' alarms use sleep tracking technology, effectively creating a mini sleep laboratory in the comfort of your own bedroom. The technology makes use of actigraphy, monitoring your motion in bed using sensors embedded in a smartphone, or wrist band. Sleep tracking software then uses these measurements to calculate your whether you are in REM, light or deep sleep and adjusts your wake up time accordingly. There are a number of systems on the market, the most popular being Zeo, Lark, Wakemate None of these devices claim to reproduce the same accuracy as clinical sleep laboratory equipment but the technology is improving all the time.
Long term fixes
8) Go to bed earlierIf you're constantly struggling to get up in the morning, before you try anything else, just use common sense and set yourself an earlier bedtime. Whether or not early means 10pm or 1pm, it's down to you, but you need to be strict with yourself. Get into the habit of unwinding at night, substitute reading for TV once in a while. If you can't get yourself in a sleepy mood try enforcing some basic rules to give yourself a fighting chance of success.
- set a cut-off time for working late
- limit your exposure to sleep-zapping blue light at night
- avoid late night stimulants such as alcohol, nicotine, big meals
- take a warm shower or bath two hours before bedtime
9) Train your brainThis technique comes from smart guy Steve Pavlina who amongst other achievements has written the most comprehensive online case study of polyphasic sleep. It's a way to trick your mind into waking immediately, by turning the whole 'getting out of bed thing' over to your subconscious mind. Any psychologist will tell you that when setting goals, determination and force of will rarely succeeds on it's own. Steve Pavlina's method works by embedding new behaviour into your brain by practise, practise and more practise. The twist here is to practise not when you're in bed, but in the day time, when you're fully awake. This may sound like a slightly crazy idea, but eventually your subconscious will take over and run the script on autopilot. Want to give it a try? Here's a step by step how-to:
- Try to recreate your bedtime routine as accurately as possible. ie brush your teeth, put on your pajamas, draw your blinds or curtains ( practice in the evening if possible when it's already dark)
- Set your alarm for 5 minutes later, then lie down in bed and close your eyes.
- Try to relax as much as possible, imagine you're asleep in the early hours of the morning.
- When your alarm goes off, turn it off immediately, then take a deep breath, stretch out all your limbs and jump out of bed.
- Do the next action you normally do on waking, ie get dressed, open the curtains, put on the radio, walk out of the bedroom etc
- Shake yourself off, return to step 1, rinse and repeat for the next few days until the whole ritual becomes automatic.
You can think of this like doing reps at the gym. Try 2 sets a day with 3-5 reps at a time. As Pavlina says, "Practice makes permanent." Here's a link to the full article here