Published by Vogue January 22, 2016
By Laura Regensdorf
For as long as I can remember, I have said the same three words upon waking: “Five more minutes.” No matter if it was Christmas morning and Santa had come. Eyes closed, I told my older sister the presents would still be there when we woke up—at a kinder, later hour. That the habit carried over into the sluggish teenage years and the sleep-deprived working ones is not much of a surprise. I’m at my most optimistic when I setthe alarm each night (morning yoga? A civilized breakfast?). Yet in reality, it plays out as more of a suggested wake-up time, like pay-what-you-wish admission at the Met. Maybe an hour slides by, the electronic cacophony punctuating the fog every nine minutes.
Which is why my ears perked up when my doctor, Eamonn A. Vitt, M.D., said the word snooze-ectomy during a recent checkup. The thinking goes, rather than put your body through the repeated stress of transitioning from sleep to wake ad nauseam (and ad delirium), force yourself to do it just once. Easier said than done. Vitt, an instructor in clinical medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, says it all started about 20 years ago, when he heard a sleep expert on a local NPR show and called in to get his thoughts on snoozing (answer: not a fan). “That very day I took a screwdriver and duct tape to my Panasonic clock radio and performed what may be the world’s first snooze-ectomy,” Vitt recalls of his unconventional surgical excision. “The results were fantastic.”
But is the post-wake-up mini nap actually harmful to our health? Not exactly, though if you’re caught in a whirlpool of snoozing, “you’re definitely disrupting sleep,” says Elizabeth B. Klerman, M.D., Ph.D., a physician at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School in the division of sleep medicine. She ticks off a string of issues associated with insufficient amounts of shut-eye: weight gain, mood problems, changes in immune function, problems learning, and errors like car accidents. If anything, she adds, “The snooze button is telling you that you’re not giving yourself enough sleep.” In other words, it’s a helpful diagnostic tool—even if, as in my case, it’s like a warning light going on when the engine’s already smoking.
The morning after my visit with Vitt, I bit the bullet and got up with the alarm. I had plans to take a sunrise train to visit friends on Long Island, and, punctuality not being my strong suit, I surprised myself by catching an earlier train with time to spare for a coffee. The next day, I woke up on the first ring and took an impromptu (and unprecedented) jog around the block. I began to wonder: Why have I spent so many frantic mornings hustling to get out the door, thinking my problem was chronic tardiness—when it’s really chronic snooze-itis?
Sure, I’ve since struggled with relapse—owing, perhaps, to my inability to surgically remove my iPhone’s snooze function, as well as to the rigors of modern life. (Vitt, who has worked overseas with Doctors Without Borders and other aid organizations, remembers getting “incredible” sleep while living in a mud hut in rural East Africa, but hyper-speed New York is another story.) There’s a physiological hurdle, too: “Different parts of your brain wake up at different speeds,” Klerman says of a phenomenon known as sleep inertia, which can stretch as long as 90 minutes or more. “When you’re hitting the snooze button, you’re not really acting rationally. Your body’s going, ‘Let me go back to sleep.’ ” Indeed it is. But my mind—newly aware of the possibilities of a full, unhurried morning—is ready to wake up.