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Alex Horvath / The Californian

Columnist Valerie Schultz

My normal weekday starts at 5 a.m. Thanks to the trial-and-error method, I have ascertained the amount of time I need to shower, get dressed, brew coffee, check my email, make my lunch, eat breakfast, read the paper and drive to work. If I am going to be a punctual employee, I know precisely the minute I need to wake up, get out of bed and get moving. That's the minute for which I set my alarm clock.

The rest of my family members, however, indulge in the ritual of the snooze button. They set their alarms for an earlier time than they know they need to arise, and sometimes spend a half-hour resetting and then reawakening to the same annoying sound. I don't understand this habit. I don't get it. As Seinfeld might say, "What is the deal with the snooze button?"

My husband has explained to me, quite patiently, that hearing his morning alarm go off and being able to slap at a button and go back to sleep for nine minutes is a good way to start the day. In fact, it's such a good way to start the day that he does it several times in a row. What? I don't think waking up to the sound of an alarm clock is a pleasant experience, so why would I want to do it multiple times every morning?

Going from asleep to awake three or four times in pretty rapid succession can't be a healthy habit. Maybe it's an addiction. If so, I know a lot of people who can't live without their morning snooze button fix. They say they actually can't get out of bed at that initial call, that the snooze feature allows them the luxury of gaining consciousness at a more civilized pace. But it seems to me that that is why God invented coffee.

One of our daughters was (and still is) known for sleeping through any and all alarms, so that her use of the snooze button became the rest of the household's never-ending wake-up call. Over the years she tried different sounds, drones and tunes and buzzers and bells and shrieks, all to no avail. We once gave her a flying alarm clock, which in theory would wake up the heaviest sleeper, as he or she had to chase the detachable alarm-propeller around the room. It didn't work on her. Another daughter utilizes a snooze feature that requires her to solve math problems of increasing difficulty in order to turn off the alarm.

I say to my family: isn't it easier just to get up? Just set the alarm for the time you need to get moving and know in your heart that you have gotten all the unbroken sleep you possibly can? They look at each other knowingly, and then shake their heads at my obtuseness, silently agreeing that Mom is simple-minded.

Bedside alarm clocks are a fairly modern phenomenon, making their appearance in American history in the late 1870s. Before that, mechanical clocks tended to be larger, often set in a wooden case on a mantel. The first chiming alarm clock became available in the 1930s. The first snooze alarm clock was invented in 1956. By the early 1960s, several wind-up models featured two separate push buttons, which allowed for the choice of five or 10 more minutes before the alarm sounded again. Electric clocks gradually replaced wind-up clocks, and our telling of time went digital. Clocks with radios allowed sleepers to awaken to music, while dawn-simulating clocks woke users with gradually increasing light in place of sound.

Indeed, the availability of electricity increased our need for alarm clocks. With the advent of widespread artificial lighting, our bodies responded less to the natural cycle of light, when dawn awakened us and darkness put us to sleep. Industrialization meant that we also worked jobs that did not require sunlight. Swing shifts and graveyard shifts messed with our internal clocks.

In our day, the idea of one's internal clock is as quaint as a barbershop quartet. Our world functions on an unbroken 24-hour cycle, with everything from news to shopping to employment to entertainment available without interruption. Everything is pretty much, as they say, "24/7." So of course we depend on our alarms to wake us. And increasingly, those alarms are a function of our cellphones. The upcoming generation may well think of bedside alarm clocks as those boxy things found mainly in hotel rooms, along with those strange thick volumes called phone books.

I am such a creature of habit that I usually wake just before my alarm is set to beep. I turn it off before it has the chance to sound, and my day begins. You could say my life is boring and predictable, to which I could say, Amen! I am happier without the drama of the snooze button, but I am also old enough to appreciate the wisdom of the truism: to each his or her own. I guess that's the deal with the snooze button, and ultimately the deal with life.