By Allen Stare
I’m a “heavy sleeper.” Ask my wife and she’ll tell you my idea of sleep is a state somewhere between unconscious and dead. Being a heavy sleeper means I’m also slow to wake up. In grade school I had a “mom” alarm. The “mom” alarm screams at you every seven to nine minutes until you finally get out of bed. It’s like a snooze alarm only the last time it goes off it says, at the top of its lungs, “I’m not going to tell you again…get down here NOW!”
Somewhere in Junior High I traded the mom alarm for an actual clock radio. It’s quite possible mom told me she was done yelling and I’d better figure out another way to get myself up. Yeah, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. My clock radio was cool. It had red glowing numbers and would play a radio station when it went off. It also had a “snooze” bar. This was my first exposure to the snooze bar. Oh, BABY, did I love that snooze bar! I STILL love that snooze bar!
Full disclosure…I intentionally set my alarm some multiple of nine minutes ahead of the time I need to get up just so I can smack the snooze bar. As stupid as it may sound, I’ve always played this game with myself. I usually set the first alarm to go off 27 minutes ahead of actual “get down here NOW!” time. Twenty-seven minutes equals three snoozes. I don’t know the metric conversion, but in the good ol’ U S of A the “snooze” is nine minutes. From the days of my red glowing numbers it’s been nine minutes. If you don’t know a snooze is nine minutes, it’s possible I don’t like you. Non-snoozers are people who pop awake to an alarm about as loud as a heavy sigh and are bright and alert the moment they open their eyes. (Oooops, better tread lightly here…my wife is a non-snoozer.) You non-snoozers will never know the delicious decadence of a good nine, or eighteen, or twenty-seven minute snooze.
As a lover of the snooze, I decided to find out why a snooze is nine minutes. I’ve heard theories, but I’ve never heard a really solid answer.
This, it would seem, is because there is no solid answer. I looked into both the history of the alarm clock and the history of the snooze button. Alarm clocks are ancient. The Egyptians added bells and whistles (seriously) to their water clocks. No snooze. Seth Thomas patented the mechanical alarm clock in 1876. Still no snooze.
It wasn’t until 1956 when General Electric-Telechron came out with the Model 7H241 “Snooz-Alarm” that we could cheat the sandman. If you hit the bar on top, you got “about 10 more minutes of sleep”. Designers were shooting for “nine minutes and change” according to two reports I found. The Telechron was a mechanical snooze. When you hit the bar, a flywheel attached to the alarm would advance the alarm trigger a slight bit. It was imprecise, but it would reset for just under ten minutes. Fun fact about the “Snooz-Alarm”: since you were actually resetting the alarm each time you hit snooze, it was necessary to put the alarm back to the starting point every night before you went to bed. If you didn’t, your latest snooze from this morning would become your first alarm tomorrow morning.
In 1959 Westclox joined the snooze game with their “Drowse Alarm”. It had a rocker bar on top. If you pushed it one way, you got five more minutes. Rock it the other way and you got “about ten.” Again with the nine minutes and change. In the 1960s when “flip-digital” clocks were introduced, the nine minute snooze had become the norm (nobody used five). According to one extended explanation, the mechanics of the flip-digital display made it easier to work with only the ones column of numbers. Going to the second column of flip digits meant an additional set of gearing. For snooze designers, triggering the snooze after nine minutes was the cheapest and easiest route. I read the same kind of thing about digital displays. In the controller chip, designers programmed a variable for the snooze time. When you smack the snooze, the variable gets set to the value of whatever digit you’re on minus one. If the last digit is a five when you hit the button, the snooze time is set to four (current time minus one). In nine minutes, when a four comes up, the snooze goes off.
While searching for answers to the nine minute question, I was surprised at the number of “snooze-haters” I found. These people believe the snooze alarm has destroyed the world! Eisenhower-era Americans didn’t snooze! They got right out of bed and got to work. They built things and made durable goods in factories! If there had been a snooze bar in the 40s we’d have lost WWII and all be speaking German or Japanese right now! The evil snooze spread in the 1960s. Obviously it was the snooze that gave us hippies, welfare, Democratic Presidents, off-shore manufacturing, assassinations and the Beatles. The snooze bar led directly to bell-bottoms and Disco!
No surprise, the snooze button, like every other awesome thing, might also be bad for you. Some sleep specialists say the snooze interrupts a REM cycle. In nine minutes you are about halfway to REM sleep. When the snooze goes off, the REM cycle is interrupted and you are groggier than if you had allowed yourself to get up in the first place. Although some of these guys point out something I can confirm: snooze dreams are very vivid and you remember more about them when you wake up.
I don’t care. I don’t smoke, I’ve seriously reduced my intake of red meat and I’ve given up soda (both regular and diet). I’m not giving up my snooze. There aren’t many things in this world you can depend on…but you can depend on this: tomorrow morning my alarm will go off 27 minutes before I actually have to get up.
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