Monday, December 5, 2022

Most of Us Hit Snooze. But What Is It Actually Doing to Us? : ScienceAlert

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If you often reach for the snooze button when your alarm wakes you up each morning, you’re not the only one: a new study found 57 percent of adults habitually stayed in bed until that second (or third, or fourth) call to get up.

The ubiquity of the snooze button is testament to its popularity – you’ll struggle to find a phone app or alarm clock without one – and this is despite plenty of warnings from the experts that snoozing is bad for us.

Sleep scientists argue alarms could in theory interrupt our sleep cycles, making it more difficult to rouse ourselves. Half-asleep, that snooze button never looks more tempting… but silencing that alarm for a few more minutes just lulls our body into the next sleep cycle, only for it to get interrupted again.

In spite of such negativity towards snoozing, hard data on its effects is scarce, with most of what we know on the topic extrapolated from studies on behaviors connected with sleep or stress.

“The medical establishment is generally against the use of snoozing, but when we went to look at what hard data existed, there was none,” says neuroscientist Stephen Mattingly, from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

“We now have the data to prove just how common it is – and there is still so much that we do not know.”

The study, involving 450 adults, drew on data logged in daily sleep surveys and from wearable devices, and found that females were 50 percent more likely to snooze than males. Meanwhile, habitual snoozers tracked fewer steps during the days than self-proclaimed non-snoozers, and had sleep patterns that showed more signs of sleep disturbance.

Sleep preferences were taken into account too. Night owls were found to use the snooze button more often, and reported being more tired in general. Younger people were more likely to snooze more often too.

None of this is to suggest that there are direct causal links between snoozing and staying up late or being less active in the day – but it shows that while snoozing can feel good for one person, it might not be so great for the next. As past research shows, we all sleep differently.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, snoozers were more likely to see the positives in snoozing, such as better mood and feeling more alert afterwards – whereas non-snoozers tended to disagree that those benefits were possible.

The top reasons for hitting snooze were that “I cannot get out of bed on my first alarm” and “because it is comfortable in my bed” – but the researchers pointed to the fact that one in three people in the US don’t get enough sleep as telling, and perhaps the main reason more than half of their study participants were snoozers.

“Critically, these statistics are only representative of a small population that is likely to be in the best position with respect to sleep habits,” says Mattingly.

“We have no idea about various age groups such as teenagers, lower-income households or any of the populations that are historically more sleep deprived than the respondents of this study.”

The team behind the study stopped short of saying snoozing was either good or bad for us, emphasizing instead that the need for any kind of wake-up-call isn’t likely to be great for our overall health.

In other words, more sleep is the answer, rather than fewer taps on the snooze button – sleep that’s of the right length, and regular in terms of its schedule, and as serene and undisturbed as possible.

As for snoozing, the researchers want to see more detailed studies into its effects with larger groups of people – not just to learn about the potential negatives of hitting the snooze button, but also about some of the positives.

“If you snooze and you’re more alert when you get behind the wheel to go to work, that might be a benefit and a useful one,” says Mattingly. “If it reduces dependence on caffeine, that’s another.”

“It’s not uniformly bad – similar to stress. Some stress is good – that’s why we have the fight or flight response. There are times and places for it. There may be cases when hitting the snooze button is actually beneficial.”

The research has been published in Sleep.

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