To many New Yorkers, nothing is more disturbing than the sharp, loud beeps of their alarm clock – not surprising since most of us are sleep deprived. In a self-reported study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation in 2010, one-third of Americans said that they get less sleep than they need in order to function. In order to cope, most folks in our sleep-deprived nation seek solace in the snooze button. Getting those extra fifteen, twenty or thirty minutes of sleep may seem like a saving grace, but hitting that beloved button may cause more problems than it's worth.
According to Dr. Yizhak Kupfer
, Assistant Director of Critical Care and Pulmonary Medicine, using an alarm clock often wakes a person up in the middle of their sleep cycle and cuts rapid eye movement (REM) sleep short. “Over the course of a night, a person goes through five shifting stages of sleep," explains Dr. Kupfer. "The brain constantly goes through these stages, emitting different brain waves that reflect if a person is experiencing lighter or deeper periods of sleep.” People who are reliant on their snooze button can diminish the
positive effect of a good night’s rest because they are constantly drifting back to sleep only to be abruptly woken up a few minutes later. This causes a shortened, disrupted sleep cycle right before a person starts their day.
“Waking up in this manner produces an adrenaline and cortisol release. This triggers an instant stress response, which causes a person to feel immediately alert,” describes Dr. Kupfer. “However, when that feeling quickly subsides, the result is disorientation and grogginess.” And, a foggy brain and irritability aren’t the only negative side effects of sleep deprivation. Many studies show a correlation between sleep loss and an increased risks of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
While most people think they can make up their “sleep debt” on the weekends, Dr. Kupfer cautions that the body doesn’t work that way. “It is recommended that the average adult sleep 8 hours per night. However, many adults only get between 6 and 7 hours of sleep, and think that they can catch up for this loss over the weekend. Unfortunately, sleeping later on the weekends can actually make it harder to wake up on time on Monday mornings.” Instead, Dr. Kupfer recommends that people stick to a consistent sleep schedule – one in which they try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day of the week.
So, how does one get into a healthy sleep cycle? “Try going to bed half an hour earlier, even though you may not feel tired,” suggests Dr. Kupfer. “Turn off the lights, television and computer, which often stimulate the brain.” And, even if it is difficult to wake up in the morning, it's important to physically get out of bed. “After a couple of weeks, a person will feel more tired in the evening, making it easier to fall asleep at a reasonable hour and get up at an earlier time the next day.”
And, if you really like the feeling of “getting some extra shut-eye,” you should only set the clock for 10 minutes earlier than your desired wake-up time. This way, you allow yourself only one press of the snooze button, while preserving your natural sleep cycle.