To sleep or to snooze? You probably know the answer, but you don’t prefer it.

Most of us use the snooze function on our alarm clocks at some point in our lives. Just a few more minutes under the covers, just some time to gather our thoughts, right?

While snoozing might seem harmless, it may not be. It is important to understand why we are using the snooze button, in the first place. For some, it’s a habit that started early on. But for many, it can signal a significant problem with sleep. Poor sleep has been shown to be associated with a number of health disorders including high blood pressure, memory problems and even weight control.

I’m a facial pain specialist and have extensively studied sleep and how it impacts painful conditions. Through tests, we discovered that many of our chronic pain patients also suffer from various sleep disorders.

Rise and shine! (And don't opt to snooze.) Credit: Pixabay
Rise and shine! (And don't opt to snooze.) Credit: Pixabay

Normal sleep

If one is tired when the alarm goes off, is it helpful to use the snooze button? While there are no scientific studies that address this topic specifically, the answer is, probably not. Our natural body clock regulates functions through what is known as circadian rhythms – physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a daily cycle.

Most adults require approximately seven and a half to eight hours of good sleep per night. This enables us to spend adequate time in the stages of sleep known as nonrapid eye movement sleep and rapid eye movement sleep.

We tend to cycle from the three stages of nonrapid eye movement sleep into rapid eye movement sleep, four to six times per night. The first portion of the night is mostly nonrapid eye movement deep sleep and the last portion consists of mostly rapid eye movement sleep.

Hypnogram of sleep between midnight and 6.30 am. Credit: RazerM [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Hypnogram of sleep between midnight and 6.30 am. Credit: RazerM [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Good sleep

Maintaining this well-defined structure is important for good, restful sleep. If this process is disturbed, we tend to awaken still feeling tired in the morning.

A number of factors can affect sleep cycles. For example, if a person is not breathing well during sleep (snoring or sleep apnea), normal sequences are disturbed and will cause the individual to awaken feeling tired. Sleep quality can be diminished by the use of electronic devices, tobacco or alcohol in the evening. Even eating too close to bedtime can be problematic.

No snooze

The use of snooze buttons often starts during the teenage years, when our circadian rhythms are somewhat altered, causing us to want to stay up later and get up later in the morning. But, delaying getting out of bed for nine minutes by hitting the snooze is simply not going to give us any more restorative sleep. In fact, it may serve to confuse the brain into starting the process of secreting more neurochemicals that cause sleep to occur, according to some hypotheses.

Bottom line: It’s probably best to set your alarm for a specific time and get up then. If you are consistently tired in the morning, consult with a sleep specialist to find out why.

Steven Bender is a clinical assistant professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, at Texas A&M University.

This article first appeared in The Conversation.