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September 5, 2004
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  Snooze You Can Use    

Sleeping Yourself Sick - During sleep apnea, people can repeatedly stop breathing for close to a minute at a time. Find out more about this sleep disorder and see the video of an apnea sufferer. (11/4/99)


Dream-Catchers - Harvard Magazine

The Sleep Well - Stanford University

Science Magazine’s special section on sleep, dreams, and memory

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Hitting the snooze bar on your alarm clock every morning is a likely indication of sleep deprivaton.

But as this ScienCentral News video reports, a morning snooze or two may give you more than just some extra shut-eye.

Extra Zs

As the quip goes, "The amount of sleep required by the average person is about five minutes more." We have to assume that this is what was going through Charles Trautman’s mind when he patented his "spasmodic alarm" in 1907. But despite that genius, according to Tom Bartels, former executive director of the 35,000-member National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, snooze bars did not really come into vogue until the late ’50s, early ’60s, along with radio alarm clocks.

Such premature invention is not uncommon in the industry. He recalls an early version of today’s newfangled shine-and-rise alarms known as "dawn simulators," which slowly light up the room when activated. In the early version, Bartels says, "when the alarm went off, it triggered a little arm that had a match in it and swept against a strike plate and then lit a candle, so that you could wake up and not have to stumble around in the dark. Problem was that when the arm struck the plate, it often threw the lit match into the room and burnt the house down."

As for the snooze bar, its variations may have been just about exhausted. Today you can buy alarm clocks with snooze bars that can be activated by either voice recognition (just say "No!" to getting out of bed) or by sensor (no fumbling in the dark for a buttonjust dismiss the alarm with a mere wave of the hand). The typical snooze has always been about nine minutes, and focus groups have determined things like the size of the activator (i.e., a "bar" rather than a "button") and its location (where you’re likely to smack it in a half-awake stateso not too close to any other offending buttons).

Snooze you win?

There actually may be a subset to the warring camps of snoozers and non-snoozers: people who treat hitting the snooze bar much in the same way as, say, smoking or drinking. "I’m trying to wean myself off of it," they say. And while listening to the efforts of those trying to kick the snooze habit tends to sound valiant and meaningful, it’s based on the assumption that hitting the snooze bar in the morning is bad for you. But is it?

Like Dr. Neil Kavey notes, it is a sign that you are sleep deprived. But perhaps there are certain benefits. Start with the fact that the vast majority of people can’t remember 95 to 99 percent of their dreams (those who say they don’t dream are wrongthey just don’t remember them). According to the book Sleep by J. Allan Hobson, MD, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, the reason we forget dreams is that, during sleep, certain molecules called aminergic neurotransmitters are cut off, nearly wiping out our ability to remember. When we awaken, however, certain neurons give our brains a shot of these transmitters. And when we hit the snooze bar and awaken again nine minutes later, we get another shot. And when we awaken again nine minutes later....

So if you awaken from a dream and go right back to sleep, there’s a very good chance of slipping right back into another dream. Or even the very same dream. And because of the jolt of neurotransmitters you just got, Hobson says there’s an even greater chance that you’ll remember them. He also notes that because of the jolt of neurotransmitters and the brief period of wakefulness, hitting the snooze bar has the added special effect of increasing "lucidity," or conscious awareness of being in a dream state.

"Usually, you’re dreaming, but you think you’re awakeyou’re fooled," he says. "But you can train your mind to notice that you’re dreaming and then take awareness into the dream with youconscious awareness. You can change the plot. You can surf on the dream channel. And that’s quite wonderful."

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