For many of us, smashing the snooze button on the alarm clock is just part of our morning routine. Five more minutes will help us feel more rested, right?
Not so fast. While staying in your cozy bed a little while longer might feel great in the moment, waking up at a different time every day can make a difference in your overall sleep quality and ultimately leave you feeling even groggier.
Here’s a closer look at how waking up at the same time every day (yes, weekends too) can be a sign of better sleep quality. And if you need help building better habits, experts share advice on how to break up with your snooze button.
What to know about sleeping in past your target wake-up time
To understand how keeping a consistent wake-up time affects sleep, SleepScore Labs looked at data over a whopping 675,231 nights slept by nearly 11,000 people age 15 to 90 years old, from March 1, 2020, to April 5, 2022.
It found that people who woke up at the same time daily generally had better-quality sleep. For every minute a person deviated from their usual wake-up time, they would lose .02 points on their SleepScore. SleepScores are the app’s qualitative assessment of a night’s rest based on parameters like total sleep duration and time in REM sleep. While that may not seem like a huge reduction in points, if your wake-up time fluctuates significantly from day to day (say, waking up at 6 a.m. on Friday, then sleeping in until 10 a.m. on Saturday), you may feel the effects of lower sleep quality on your overall well-being.
The results also suggest that keeping a regular schedule might be a more effective way to get more sleep than hitting the snooze button. According to the analysis, people who have a consistent wake-up time tend to have longer sleep duration, whereas those with a variable wake-up time typically spend less time sleeping at night. The data showed that for every hour your wake-up time varied, your total sleep time would drop by an average of almost 10 minutes.
The new research offers a fresh perspective on the contributing factors to sleep health, beyond just the amount of time spent asleep.
“Most research to date has focused on the impact of insufficient sleep on health outcomes,” explains Elie Gottlieb, Ph.D., applied sleep scientist at SleepScore Labs. “[But this] research suggests that a pillar of healthy sleep habits is also consistency — going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, including weekends.”
Why you should keep a consistent sleep schedule
Even though sleeping in on the weekends or just hitting snooze for a few more minutes on a workday can feel so good, an erratic wake schedule can throw off your circadian rhythm and make it more difficult to get good quality sleep, says Dr. Raj Dasgupta, pulmonary and sleep medicine specialist, and spokesperson at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
He explains that seeing sunlight when we wake up in the morning stops the release of melatonin. This hormone helps keep the body’s circadian rhythm on track and promotes sleep at the appropriate time, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As day turns to night, and we’re exposed to less light, the body amps up production of melatonin to get you ready for sleep at just the right time in a 24-hour day. Changing your wake time from day to day messes with your internal clock, affecting melatonin production and potentially making it more difficult to go to bed and wake up at your ideal times.
Another reason why it’s important to keep a strict sleep schedule is its impact on a process called the homeostatic sleep drive, says Dasgupta. Think of it as the pressure you feel to sleep as the day goes on, and the pressure you feel to stop sleeping once you’ve had a solid amount of shut-eye, per the CDC. Keeping a regular bedtime and wake-up time helps regulate the homeostatic sleep drive and align it with your circadian rhythm, adds Dasgupta. And that, in turn, allows you to get dependably restorative sleep night after night.
Plus, a consistent sleep schedule may help reduce our risk of serious health problems.
“In line with our findings, several studies have shown that greater sleep and wake-up time variability is associated with key health outcomes, including diabetes, depression, and even impaired cognitive functioning that might impact physical and cognitive performance,” notes Gottlieb. “The circadian rhythm craves consistency, and you can support it by going to bed and waking up at the same time — every day.”
How to stop hitting snooze in the morning
Despite the benefits of keeping a consistent sleep schedule, waking up at the same time day after day is often easier said than done — especially if you’re in the habit of hitting the snooze button. How can you find the motivation to get up from a warm, comfy bed on schedule?
Have only one alarm
Stop setting multiple alarms or using the snooze button at all. Instead, set only one alarm for your latest wake-up time so you have no choice but to start your day.
“Set one alarm for as late as you possibly can and set it out of hand’s reach so you physically must get out of bed in the morning,” says Gottlieb.
Step into some sunlight
Open up those blinds or get outside as soon as you can — and leave your sunglasses at home. Sunlight is a natural way for your body to know that it’s time to get up.
“Having sunlight strike your eyes can suppress melatonin and reset your circadian rhythm,” says Dasgupta.
Get some exercise
He also recommends incorporating exercise into your morning routine (a brisk walk or jog outdoors can help you get sun exposure and a workout at the same time). Getting physical activity early during the day not only helps boost your energy and reduce grogginess, it may also help you sleep better at night. A small study from 2014 found that performing aerobic exercise at 7 a.m. helped people spend more time in deep sleep and experience higher-quality sleep compared with working out in the afternoon or evening.
Optimize your bedroom
It’s also important to make sure your bedroom is set up to help you sleep throughout the night. At a basic level, the space should be dark, quiet, and relaxing. Try to turn off any electronics that may light up or make noise and throw off your wake-up time. If loud noises (like an early morning garbage truck) throw off your wake-up schedule, you may want to wear sleep headphones or invest in a white noise machine. That way, you can stay asleep until your scheduled wake-up time.
Schedules are key
Maintain a consistent schedule every day — and not just weekdays. Staying in bed late on weekend mornings might feel great at the time, but it can have consequences on your overall sleep quality. Instead, choose a wake-up time that can work for you every day of the week, and stick to it.
The improved sleep quality you experience might make you forget that the snooze button even exists.