If you find yourself constantly reaching for the snooze button in the morning, there is good news: It’s not as bad for you as medical experts previously thought. According to a study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame, there isn’t much difference between waking up to one alarm or using two or three alarms.
“If you need an alarm because you’re sleep-deprived—that’s the issue,” says Aaron Striegel, professor of computer science and engineering at Notre Dame, in a press release about the study, which was published in the journal Sleep.
The study found that when participants woke up naturally, without using an alarm, they slept longer and consumed less caffeine.
“When we are able to sleep as long as we want, the body experiences a stress response right before waking,” explains Stephen Mattingly, lead author of the report who conducted the study as a postdoctoral researcher at Notre Dame. “That physiological response contributes to an individual feeling alert when they wake up.”
But disrupting natural sleep cycles by using an alarm can lead to sleep inertia, which is the feeling of being tired or groggy. Waking up with an alarm bypasses the body’s natural stress response and disrupts brain chemistry.
“When you wake up from a REM sleep state, your brain is most of the way to being fully awake,” says Mattingly. “Hormone levels circulating at that stage are going to be different than when you’re in a deep sleep.”
Researchers surveyed 450 adults with full-time, salaried jobs and found that 57% of participants were habitual snoozers. As part of the research, participants submitted daily surveys and a questionnaire. Data was also collected from wearable devices that measured their sleep duration and heart rate. The survey also found that females were 50% more likely to hit snooze than males and people who snoozed tracked fewer steps and more sleep disturbances than other respondents.
“These are people who have been in the workforce for years, white-collar workers with advanced degrees—and 57% of them are snoozing,” says Mattingly. “Critically, these statistics are only representative of a small population that is likely to be in the best position with respect to sleep habits. 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. So, the odds are this is probably a conservative estimate of the wider population.”
The study also took into consideration participants’ chronotype (a.k.a. whether they’re an early bird or night owl by nature) and determined night owls tended to snooze more and were more likely to be tired in general.
“In the nine-to-five world, night owls are losing,” Mattingly observes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly one in three Americans is not getting enough sleep, but snoozing may be helping some people combat their exhaustion. While more research is needed to better understand any potential negative consequences of snoozing on health, there may be some benefits.
“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,” Mattingly says. “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.”