The Snooze Game



I spend a lot of time in hotels. Different cities, different continents, different hotels. There is one feature in a hotel room which will have the single-biggest impact on my experience there… whether or not there is a power socket within a telephone-charger-cord-length-and-arm’s-reach away from the part of the bed I want to sleep in.

I’m addicted to my smart phone, and like all good smart phone addicts, looking at the screen is the last thing I do before sleep and the first thing I do when I wake. If there is no power socket then I’m left with a dilemma - do I charge my phone on the other side of the room, or keep it with me but take the risk that it’ll run out of power in the night? The added problem is that my phone doubles for me as my alarm clock and if it runs out of power in the night, will I wake up in time? Or be late for my work?

But this blog isn’t about my risking my professional reputation by being late for work just so I can have a few minutes of useless screen time before I sleep. Nope, it’s actually about how we set alarms on our phones.

I showed the following image to an audience once and asked what was wrong with it. I expected the answer that it is set for 7.03am, and the universal law of setting alarms doesn’t allow us to wake on anything other than an 0 or a 5! But the answer I got was far funnier, and equally true.

“There’s only one alarm set. There’s should be at least 3 of them that you can snooze your way through before you finally have to get up.”

She was right. How many of us play the snooze game? In this game, the last of the alarms we set is the one when we really need to get up, but we set a number of earlier alarms, knowing we’ll hit the snooze button a couple of times at least. In this game we put ourselves through disturbed junk sleep of anywhere up to 30 minutes every day!

Why do we do it? Because hitting the snooze button is too easy. So easy, that even in a drowsy state, with our eyes still closed, we know automatically how to cancel the alarm and drift off back into a half-sleep.

Putting our phones on the other side of the room, or in another room of the house even, breaks the pattern because we have to actually get out of bed and disturb the status quo to turn it off.

In the same way as you can encourage more engagement by making something easier to get, if you are trying to change or remove a habit, you need to find a way to make the existing behaviour as hard as possible and to put the tools you use for it in the path of most resistance.

So I really should always plug my phone in across the room in hotels regardless of whether there is a power socket by the bed. The benefits are significant; easier to fall asleep, easier to wake up, better quality and longer sleep. But I still can’t help want just 5 minutes more screen time...