When your alarm went off this morning, did you leap cheerfully out of bed like some kind of psychopath… or did you do the predictable thing and hit that snooze button?
Love it or hate it — or even love to hate it — the snooze button is as much a part of our modern morning routine as breakfast radio shows and scoffing cereal.
But what’s the story behind this quirk of modern life? And by tapping that fateful nine-more-minutes-of-sleep option, are we really cheating the system — or just ourselves?
A brief history of the alarm clock
Before we consider the concept of snoozing, we have to look at the bigger picture. That’s right, it’s time to do a deep dive into the history of the alarm clock.
Way back in the 4th century BC, the Greek philosopher Plato had a water-based alarm clock that would rouse him and his students for dawn lectures.
Skip forward a few hundred years to around 725, when Buddhist monk and polymath Yi Xing created another water-based contraption with gongs that went off at certain times.
Mechanical clocks as we’d recognize them today emerged around the 14th century. Monks get most of the credit for creating them, in order to stick to prayer schedules.
From then on, clock towers in town squares would chime in the mornings to wake people nearby. If you weren’t close enough to hear, you might employ a knocker-upper to bang on your bedroom windows. With the advent of the industrial revolution, some factories would sound a morning whistle to wake workers.
Leap all the way to the 1780s, when American is said to be the first man to make a personal alarm clock. It could only be set to 4 a.m. (the time Hutchins considered proper to wake). Despite being a clockmaker by trade, he never commercialized the concept.
When was the snooze button invented?
In the mid-1950s, arguably a time of huge technical advances and massive growth in the household appliance market, the first bedside alarm clock with a snooze button was released.
Marketed as “the world’s most humane alarm clock,” General Electric-Telechron introduced the “Snooz-Alarm” model as a “new kind of alarm” that “wakes you, lets you snooze, wakes you again!”
However, it was the “snooze” description and nine-minute duration that won, eventually becoming the industry standard still recognized today.
Why was snooze set to nine minutes?
The main theory behind why the snooze period was set to nine minutes is a . The snooze function had to be worked in around the existing gearing of a small alarm clock, and keeping the time period in single digits is presented a more logical technical solution.
The secondary reason, which may be due more to , is that nine minutes is a satisfactory time for a brief rest. If you get past the 10-minute mark, your body may start to fall into a deep sleep, making waking up again more unpleasant.
But why is it still nine minutes?
In a completely programmable digital era, the fact that snooze is set to a default (and in many cases, an unchangeable default) nine minutes is what is described as a “nostalgic artificial standard.”
In other words, it’s either an homage to how things have traditionally been done, or an if-it-ain’t-broke-then-don’t-try-to-fix-it type scenario.
Apple’s iOS platform and Amazon’s Alexa both default to the nine-minute norm. The more fragmented Android market offers five-minute, 10-minute, and user-defined periods.
Of course, now we don’t hit a physical button on an actual clock. We tap a touchscreen, or simply tell our devices to “snooze.”
Snooze button stats
Is hitting snooze good for you?
There are two major reasons, according to science, that snoozers are losers.
, a neuroscientist and director of the University of California’s Centre for Human Sleep Science, states that “when we are artificially wrenched from sleep by an alarm clock, a burst of activity from the fight-or-flight branch of the nervous system causes a spike in blood pressure and a shock acceleration in heart rate.”
Repeating this wrenching process by pressing snooze frequently puts your cardiovascular system through such a shock again and again, causing what Walker says is “multiplicative abuse to your heart and nervous system.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, then snoozing can also adversely affect you on a hormonal level by increasing your body’s level of cortisol, a hormone that is released when you’re stressed.
Sleep expert Neil Robinson explains that “by dozing off for those extra minutes, we’re preparing our bodies for another sleep cycle, which is then quickly interrupted — causing us to feel fatigued for the rest of the day that lies ahead.”
A bonus reason to not be tempted to press snooze is for the sake of your relationship. A of more than 1,000 Americans found that the more people’s partners hit the snooze button, the lower they rated their relationship satisfaction.
Sooo, what’s the alternative?
So, we now know we should steer clear of the snooze option, but what are the alternatives?
One increasingly popular option is to ditch an audio-based alarm clock in favor of a light therapy solution. These “sunrise alarm clocks” or “wake-up lights” gradually illuminate in a way that simulates the sun rising, promising a more gradual and natural wake-up process.
, , and are just three manufacturers that offer products along these lines. Depending on the model, some also give you a sunset option for a bedtime chill-out session, the ability to wake to different sounds, and options to change the amount of time the light gradually brightens.
More recently, wearables are a viable alternative to a traditional alarm solution. Smartwatches will not only gather useful data about your night’s rest, they’ll also wake you gently in the morning.
Finally, if you can’t afford to splash out on a new alarm clock or a smartwatch, you could opt for audio that wakes you in a more civilized manner than the traditional blaring alarm. , , or even could be considered a better alternative, especially if the sound increases gradually.
TL;DR: Step away from that snooze button, people…
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