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You snooze you lose

February 09, 2001

You snooze, you lose?



By KEVIN CLAPP / Staff Writer


All hail the snooze bar, best friend to men, women and children everywhere seeking a few extra zzzs before starting their day.

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The nine extra minutes of sleep provided by slapping it down with a drowsy, flailing hand are just what's needed after a good night's rest that could stand to last a little longer.

Unfortunately, some sleep specialists say hitting the snooze is indicative of poor sleep patterns. According to others, it can throw important slumber cycles out of whack and becomes the first, early symptom of a larger problem.

"In this country, there is an epidemic of inadequate sleep," says Peter Jablin, a pulmonologist and medical director of the sleep laboratory at Chambersburg Hospital in Chambersburg, Pa. One of his duties as a pulmonologist is to take care of adults with lung disease.

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"The definition of adequate sleep is that you no longer feel sleepy, and you're awake the entire day. ... It's almost like our expectation is that we should be sleepy during the day."

If anything, relying on the snooze bar to rouse you out of bed is the clearest sign that you are not getting enough sleep.

Marc Key, supervisor at Sleep Disorders Center of Western Maryland, says continually hitting the snooze bar can prolong the sleep cycle. More importantly, he says it can disrupt the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep that most people are in prior to waking up.

Over time, disruption of REM sleep can have serious effects on the body, he says. At first, the nine-minute respite that hitting the snooze provides won't allow the body to sleep properly. As a result, people feel it when they get up.

"Initially, it'll just take you longer to get into the swing of things," Key says. "The biggest effect immediately is you just feel dragged out until you get into the day. It will throw your day out of whack. Basically, it'll make you feel like you need to take a nap."

Instead of using the snooze bar as a crutch, Jablin says people should determine how much sleep is enough for them. The recommended amount of sleep per night is eight hours, though it can fluctuate from six to 10 hours, depending on the person.

Jablin suggests people go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. If they don't feel refreshed, they should increase the amount of sleep per night in increments of a half-hour until they do.

After a week or two, people will have determined how much sleep is adequate for them and will find themselves waking up a minute or two before their alarm goes off.

Neither Jablin nor Key believes Americans approach sleep patterns properly.

"The American society is the best society in the world at having sleep disorders because we're a 24/7 society, and everyone is sleep deprived," Key says. "People are just trying to stretch that last bit of sleep a little longer because they're not getting to bed on time."

Much of the problem can be attributed to discipline, Key adds. Many people aren't able to rise and shine without hitting the snooze a few times.

"It's an option, and it's easier to use that option than not, I guess," he says. "You're not disciplined to get out of bed and get started."

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