Beep-beep! Beep-beep!! It’s wake-up time, and your alarm is going off. But you’re sooo tired, and the bed is sooo comfortable. Before you know it, you hit snooze. And in a few minutes, you hit snooze again. And again. It’s a penalty-free grace period that never expires—after all, you’ll get up eventually, right? No harm done.
Unfortunately, those 20 or 30 minutes deliciously lost to snoozing can become problematic. Adding insult to injury, the sleep you manage to get between snooze alarms doesn’t benefit you much anyway. “For most of us, that alarm is going off at a time when we are likely having REM sleep, one of the most restorative stages of sleep,” explains Ilene Rosen, MD, associate professor of medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, who studies sleep disorders and sleep deprivation. But once REM sleep is interrupted, Rosen says, you don’t immediately return to the same stage. So those extra nine or so minutes post-alarm aren’t very restful. “You’re short-changing yourself,” she says.
Of course, waking up is hard—sometimes even after eight hours. That’s why so many folks fall victim to the siren song of the snooze button. What to do? We asked sleep experts for answers.
Work on your timing
Although you’re typically in REM sleep by wake-up time, there’s a chance your alarm will go off during a deeper sleep cycle instead. The resulting grogginess can be one reason you’re especially tempted to hit snooze. “You’re setting an artificial time to wake you that’s not in sync with your body rhythm,” explains Nathaniel Watson, MD, professor of medicine and co-director of the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center. To address this issue, some sleep-tracking apps, such as the Wirecutter-recommended SleepScore, monitor your sleep cycles and wake you at an optimal time within a programmed range (for example, during the light sleep of non-REM stage 1 instead of the deep non-REM stage 3), thereby increasing your chances of waking up feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
Opt for a gentler sound
You might expect that the louder and more unpleasant the alarm, the more effective it would be at waking you up. In fact, it may have the opposite effect: As W. Christopher Winter, MD, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of The Rested Child, says, “A lot of times, when people hear that jarring sound, they shut it off immediately,” only to fall back asleep. Instead, he suggests trying soothing sounds (birds chirping, bells chiming, a favorite song) that gradually increase in volume and peak at your scheduled wake-up time. “It’s allowing you to sort of wake up, become more conscious and thoughtful about your actions, and then get up,” Winter says. You may find a range of more-pleasant sounds in your phone’s clock feature, on a few of our alarm clock picks, and in all of our sunrise alarm clock and sleep-tracking app recommendations.
“Light cues our brain to be awake,” Rosen says. “If you have trouble getting up in the morning, a brighter room will be easier to wake up to.” If the actual sunrise corresponds to your desired wake time, leave your shades raised a bit at night, as long as light sources outside your home—lamp posts, street lights, the neighbors’ off-season Christmas decorations—aren’t visible through your window (because they can prevent you from falling asleep in the first place). Or consider a smart shade, which you can program to rise at a certain time.
If it’s still dark when you need to wake up, switch on a lamp as soon as the alarm goes off (it’s even better if you have to get out of bed to do that—see “Get on your feet” below). Artificial lighting isn’t as bright as sunshine, but turning it on is more helpful than staying in the dark. Otherwise, a sunrise alarm clock, which slowly brightens the room for the 15 to 30 minutes before your alarm goes off, can take the edge off waking up. Some models, such as our top pick, the Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light HF3520, start with a soothing red-tinted glow that gradually transforms into a bright white light that fills the room, accompanied by the sound of chirping birds (or other gentle audio options).
Incentivize yourself with scents
Although odors can’t necessarily wake you up as effectively as bright light or loud sounds can, they can at least pull you out of bed once your alarm wakes you up. Rosen says she used to program her coffee maker to finish brewing right before her alarm went off: “It was an association like, ‘Look, all I have to do is get to the kitchen and fill the mug, and I can get started feeling better.’” Similarly, Winter would put his bread maker up to the task. The aroma that would waft through his house a handy 30 minutes before his scheduled wake-up time was “really powerful and kind of motivating,” he says.
Get on your feet
Unlike cows, humans can’t sleep standing up, Rosen points out. “So if you stand up, even if you’re tired and don’t feel that great, you will at least be able to move through the motions you need to do to promote your alertness,” she says. Watson says some of his patients have reported success with Clocky, a wheeled clock that scoots across the room as its alarm sounds so you have to crawl around and find it to shut it off. As for me, a cell phone (or alarm clock) left in the bathroom does the trick: Not only does it force me to walk over and turn the alarm off, but at that point I’m also just one step away from brushing my teeth and showering. Or you might try alarm apps, including the Wirecutter-tested Sleep as Android, which compel you to perform tasks such as walking several paces or scanning a QR code to make the noise stop. Another free app available to iPhones as well as Androids, Alarmy (iOS or Android) prompts you to shake your phone back and forth, which I have also resorted to when I knew I’d be reluctant to wake.
Raise the stakes
Getting up for essential appointments (like jobs and international flights) isn’t necessarily hard, but waking up for lower-stakes events (like that morning workout I promised myself I’d do today for sure) can feel impossible. “The brain kind of knows what is ‘necessary’ and what is kind of a ‘bonus’ thing, and can often sleep through the bonus things,” explains Winter. One way to bypass this problem is to make the event more “necessary.” For morning workouts, sign up for a non-refundable fitness class or plan a run with a friend who will not forgive you if you bail. For brunch, tell your date that you’ll pay for the meal if you’re late.
Enlist a human alarm clock
You might use hotel wake-up calls while traveling—why not at home? Simply tap your favorite morning person to phone you when you need it. (Hopefully, they’re also dependable and loquacious.) That’s what Rosen would sometimes do when she was particularly sleep deprived during her residency years. I use my sister—after five minutes of hearing about her crise du jour, there’s no way I’d be able to fall back asleep. Now that we live on opposite coasts and her commute coincides perfectly with my wake-up time, our calls have become more frequent.
Sleep more (and better)
We saved this strategy for last because we figured it’s the one you’d least want to hear. But as Watson explains, you would likely not even need an alarm if you were consistently getting a good night’s sleep—you would just spontaneously wake up right around when you wanted to, assuming you went to bed early enough. Unfortunately, few people are able or willing to set aside a full seven to eight hours for sleep consistently every night, much less turn off their electronics, avoid alcohol and coffee before bedtime, or skip other sleep-inhibiting substances and activities.