Does setting an alarm 90 minutes before you need to actually wake up help you bounce out of bed with more energy?
Sleep and I are in a monogamous, committed, loving relationship. I love sleep, and sleep loves me back — hard. Trouble is, while we always spend at least eight hours a night together without struggle, when morning comes I can’t pull myself away from my suitor (er, pillow), even when technically I’ve gotten enough sleep.
Instead, I snooze (and snooze and snooze) until I get up late, forcing my morning routine into a scrambled circus of eye boogies, sponge baths, on-the-go coffee, and looming deadlines. So when I heard there might be a better way to wean myself from my morning liaison with sleep — with a 90-minute snooze hack — I was intrigued.
Here’s the gist: Instead of spending a half to full hour of sleep hitting the snooze button again and again and dozing off into what researchers call “fragmented sleep” (which
The theory, explains Chris Winter, MD, medical director of the Sleep Medicine Center at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Virginia, is that the 90 minutes of sleep you get between snoozes is the full sleep cycle, allowing you to wake up after your REM state, instead of during. Goodbye drowsiness.
Could two alarms really help me break up with my (codependent) relationship with sleep? I decided to test it out for a week.
The night before, I set an alarm for 6:30 a.m. and another at 8:00 a.m. — a full nine hours after I hit the hay. When that first alarm went off, I hopped right out of bed because I had to pee.
While I immediately slid back between the sheets and fell asleep, if my REM state lasts 90 minutes, I now only had 86 minutes to get a full cycle in. Perhaps that’s why at 8:00 a.m. when my alarm went off, I felt like garbage.
For the sake of the experiment I got up and into the shower, hopeful that the grogginess I felt would wear off. But it didn’t until I finished my second cup of coffee.
I had a breakfast meeting that day, so I set my first alarm for 5:30 a.m. and my second for 7:00 a.m. Waking up at 7:00 a.m. was a breeze; I jumped out of bed, did a quick stretch routine on my yoga mat, and even had time to straighten my hair before walking out the door to my meeting.
Here’s the thing… I have no recollection of hearing and shutting off the 5:30 a.m. alarm (literally, zero), even though I’m positive that I set it. Regardless, I was high energy the rest of the morning, and generally felt like an A+ early bird.
Just like the first day of my experiment, when my first alarm went off, I had to pee. I felt fine (say, a 6 out of 10) and managed not hit snooze when my second alarm went off at 8:00 a.m. But I was concerned that I was ruining the experiment by only giving myself 80 to 85ish minutes to REM instead of 90, so I called sleep-expert Winter for advice.
Turns out, 90 isn’t the magic number.
“There’s an idea that everyone sleeps in 90-minute cycles but that’s an average, not a rule,” says Winter. “That means your REM cycle might be longer or shorter than 90 minutes. So you shouldn’t feel like you’ll wake up feeling more restored if you wake up five minutes later or earlier.” Phew.
As long as I wasn’t waking up feeling exhausted — and I wasn’t — Winter said not to worry about these a.m. bathroom breaks.
On these days, between the two alarm bells, I had the wildest, most detailed dreams I can remember having in my entire life. On Thursday, I dreamed I was a cowgirl named Beverly who was an Olympian swimmer, and I had a pet dog named Fido who spoke Russian (seriously). Then, on Friday, I had a dream I moved to Texas to become a competitive CrossFit athlete.
Apparently, I have some untapped athletic potential — and a desire to explore the South — that my dreams are urging me to investigate? Interestingly, Winter had actually suggested that I keep a dream journal next to my bed this week because he thought this experiment likely would affect my dreams.
Dreaming like this meant waking up was seriously disorienting. Both days it took me five minutes to come down from the “dream high” and collect myself.
But once I was up, I didn’t fall back to sleep! So I guess you could say the hack worked.
I heard my first alarm for 7:00 a.m. and my second alarm at 8:30 a.m., but I happily snoozed the sucker until 10:30 a.m. — the absolute latest I could sleep if I still wanted to make my habitual, Saturday morning 11:00 a.m. CrossFit class.
I felt seriously well rested, which was good because I didn’t have time to pick up coffee on my way to work out. But I did hit snooze for a full two hours… talk about a fail.
I usually sleep in on Sundays, but I had a few things I wanted to check off my to-do list before going to the gym. So, again, I set my first alarm for 7:00 a.m. and my second alarm for 8:30 a.m. After falling asleep by 10:00 p.m. the night before, I was up before even the first alarm went off!
I had set up shop, was drinking joe, and replying to emails by 6:30 a.m. Even if the hack wasn’t the cause, I’d call that a wake-up win.
My weeklong attempt to abstain from the snooze button definitely wasn’t enough to absolve me from my love of Zzzville. But, the 90-minute alarm hack did keep me from hitting snooze every day but one (and it was a Saturday, so I won’t be too harsh on myself).
While I didn’t magically become a morning person after trying the hack, I learned there was one main benefit of waking up the first or second time: more time in my day to get work done!
Going forward, I can’t promise my snooze days are permanently behind me. But this hack did show me I can break up with my snooze button and keep up my love affair with sleep.
Gabrielle Kassel is a rugby-playing, mud-running, protein-smoothie-blending, meal-prepping, CrossFitting, New York–based wellness writer. She’s run her commute for two weeks, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drank, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or practicing hygge. Follow her on Instagram.