I Tried 3 Experiments to Break My Snooze Button Habit... and Only One Worked

I Tried 3 Experiments to Break My Snooze Button Habit... and Only One Worked

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Anne Momber
Nov 16, 2016

Lest we begin this adventure with any misunderstanding about my relationship with early mornings and my alarm clock, allow me to offer this summary: I am the Queen of Snooze Buttons. My husband, parents and college roommates can all attest to this fact. But snoozing my way through the morning isn't exactly the most productive or, frankly, healthy way to begin the day. In fact, research shows that hitting the snooze button may break up REM cycles, making the snoozer even more tired and contributing to lingering annoyances like that groggy, brain fog feeling more formally known as sleep inertia. (In other news, the actual term for incessant snoozing is "drockling." No, I am not making this up.)

It was armed with this information that I came to a decision: I really, seriously, need to put the kibosh on my unhealthy addiction to hitting "snooze." But where's a sleep junkie to begin? A little more research and a few weeks of carefully coordinated morning trials later, I had my plan. I would take three weeks to try three different techniques designed to break a snooze button habit: Syncing with sleep cycles, using a dedicated sleep app and of course, the cult favorite, long distance snoozing (a.k.a. putting your alarm clock across the room). Spoiler alert: Only one actually worked for me.

Week One: Long-Distance Snoozing

I'm pretty sure I headed into my week of placing my alarm clock halfway across the bedroom with an extra helping of misplaced confidence—that or I simply didn't consider the double rush of waking up to an alarm and being forced into immediate physical activity to turn it off. This is one case where I'd argue more isn't always better. Either way, here are the results.

Short term success: The first morning, I'm jolted out of sleep to the sound of my alarm—and then jolted out of bed by the almost immediate realization I've placed it beyond arm's reach. The combination of the two led me to skip crawling back underneath the blankets and instead I was officially up and ready to face the day.

Long term success: Five days later, the novelty of waking up every morning to lunge across the room in an attempt to silence the sound of my alarm had worn off, but its ability to permanently shake me from slumber hadn't waned. On more than one occasion I'd gone so far as to actually sit back down on my bed, but I never succumbed to the urge to curl back up.

Sleep quality: Generally speaking, I'm a champion sleeper. This anti-snooze scenario left me with a business-as-usual approach to my sleep habits and quality.

Brain fog: I was tired when I woke up, which is fairly typical, but the fog only lingered through my morning routine and I was at a normal level of alertness by the time I headed out the door.

Final thoughts:

I'm not opposed to placing my alarm across the room on a daily basis, but about midway through the week I started to question this process's sustainability. Still, all went well until day three, when I had to wake up at 3 a.m. to catch a 7 a.m. plane flight and stumbling across my dark bedroom to quiet my phone seemed like an unnaturally cruel solution.

Rating: 7/10

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Week Two: Sleep Cycle Coordination

The basic premise of week two's experiment was that it's easier to wake up when you work with your body. Sleep happens in 90-minute cycles where we move from nearly awake to full-on REM sleep and back, and if you time it right you can wake up when your body's natural momentum is heading towards a waking state and in your favor. To test this, plan your sleep based on 90-minute increments—so, sleeping for six hours, or seven and a half hours, or nine hours. Here's how it worked.

Short term success: I aimed for and got about seven and a half hours of sleep that first night, right on schedule, but I'll admit I was so overjoyed with the prospect of having my alarm within arm's reach again that it didn't even occur to me to go back to sleep. Although that may have been the well-restedness talking.

Long-term success: At the end of the week, I'm practically an evangelist for this sleep plan. I wanted to tell everyone I met how much sleep they should be getting, which is probably too personal, so I skipped the conversation and sipped my caffeine-free tea instead. It felt weird to aim for less sleep than normal (eight-plus hours), but I was regularly waking up without any desire to press "snooze."

Sleep quality: So good. I love sleep. Sleep is my favorite.

Brain fog: I feel a little braggy saying this, but my brain fog was nonexistent. I was waking up refreshed and alert and feeling clearer-minded throughout the day.

Final thoughts:

After a week of testing, I'm confident this option is infinitely more user-friendly than option one. It doesn't require an early-morning leap for my phone, which makes it a much more soothing and less stressful way to greet the day. I do have to put a little more thought into it—knowing when I'd like to wake up and making sure I'm in bed with enough time to make that fit my sleep cycle—but the effort is worth it.

Rating: 9/10

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Week Three: Sleep App

My final test was all about technology. I was looking for a set it and forget it option, preferably one that would allow me to fall asleep whenever I wanted and experience a gentle, non-abrasive wakeup call each morning. The basic premise of many sleep and alarm apps I looked at is that your phone does all the work of analyzing your sleep cycle for you. All you do is plug in the time by which you absolutely must be woken up and the app uses your body movements to decide approximately when it's the best time to do so. I chose SleepCycle, and here's a closer look at what actually happened.

Short term success: All I remember from that first morning is being exhausted (I'd been worried about the technology working and had a rough night of sleep) and thinking the sound of my app's alarm was just soothing enough to lull me back to sleep. Which it did. Twice. So, not the best start.

Long term success: Five days later, I found myself considering the following series of questions on repeat: Why am I this tired? Have I ever been this tired before? Is my phone actually picking up my dog's sleeping habits instead of mine? Is there coffee anywhere in this house? Still, I was hit or miss on my tendency to press the snooze button.

Sleep quality: So, so bad. I'm one of those people who will stress themselves out of sleep. Like, I'm laying there wondering if my alarm will actually wake me up and my lack of faith in the technology turns into lack of sleep. It's not ideal.

Brain fog: About midway through the week I was ready to throw in the towel. I'm typically a caffeine-free kid, but coffee in the morning quickly became a productivity essential.

Final thoughts:

This test put me firmly back on the snoozefest struggle bus. This is in no way a comment on the app I used itself—I retested it one night when my husband was out of town and it worked so much better. The idea is brilliant and the alarms themselves seem perfect for a calming wakeup. But whether the app really was picking up my dog or my husband instead of me, or I'm incapable of being gently and effectively woken, it doesn't fit my everyday reality and it definitely didn't help me break my habit.

Rating: 4/10

In Conclusion: Snooze-Free Success

While it was difficult to break my mind out of the idea that more sleep was better sleep, scheduling my nights around those 90-minute sleep cycles was far and away my most successful approach to avoiding excess drockling. It's not always perfect, but I'm still using the concept now, after the experiment—the days I make an effort to frame my sleep around the length of my sleep cycles, I wake up without the urge to hit the snooze button and feel more alert throughout the day. If I were hard-pressed to break a truly terrible snooze habit, I'd probably combine my first two tests, placing my alarm across the room and planning out that almost-perfect seven and a half hours of sleep. But for now, I'm content to rise and shine without the help of an app—or that bone-jarring leap out of bed.

Are you a chronic snoozer? What changes have you tried to break the habit?

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