Parenting: Mystery of the snooze button

January 17, 2011 12:12:53 PM PST
"Why is the snooze nine minutes long?"

It goes off. And no matter what type of alarm you set (marimba, boing, crickets, old car horn, sonar, timba, etc.) it never sounds pleasant.

It's been a long week with the kids. It's been a long week at work. Just a few more minutes of shut-eye, just a few more?nine minutes, to be exact.

Nine minutes. Nine? Why nine?

Why not eight, or 10, or seven, or 11? Or nine-point-five?

Somehow, this has become the general?zzz?sorry, um, somehow this nine minutes thing has become the rule of thumb for just about any alarm clock. It has been for decades. Why? Why always nine for the snooze?

Is it because nine has some significance to this daily human act? I mean, did Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, have nine children or something?

Is it because if you put nine on its side, it (somewhat) resembles the human figure at rest?

Would it be harmful to our human subconsciousness if we were awakened, and then allowed to sleep, and then awakened again at any time interval other than nine minutes? Would say, five minutes, frighten the inner brain?

Is nine minutes the maximum a body can sleep without triggering new dreams, placing the sleeper into even deeper sleep?

Is ten minutes too much, and eight minutes not enough? (Wait, "Eight is Enough," remember that show?)

Is nine just a number someone picked long ago?

Well, according to the Parenting Blog's strenuous web research, the number nine does seem to be an arbitrary number that has stuck with us for so long. Here are two theories:

Number one, when clocks were still made with cranks and dials, you know, actual machinery, someone came up with the idea to add a "snooze" option for people who felt the need to catch a few more z's. And since the clock had moving parts and needed to be set, the makers of early clocks decided to pick a number and stick with it. Otherwise, multiple brands of clocks with multiple settings for the snooze option would require different gears. The clock makers were looking to make clocks, well, standard. Isn't that what clocks are supposed to be anyway?

Our second theory: using the number nine is the highest amount of minutes a snooze option can be without requiring the clock to keep track of more that one digit at a time. Confused? Try and stick with me here. This theory is mostly about mathematics.

Think of it this way. If you hit the snooze at 7:11am, or 7:21am, or 6:31am, or 8:51am, the nine minutes will expire the next time a "0" comes up on the minute side of the clock (7:20am, 7:30am, 6:40am, 9:00am). Pretty simple to set if you are a dumb, clunky, brainless machine. You only need to teach it how to add nine to the unitary digits. And adding nine to any number equals that number minus one (at least when it comes to that final digit). You still following? Good.

Now, if the snooze were set to go off in 10 minutes, the clock might think the snooze is over as soon as it begins, unless you teach it how to count by tens, which requires the clock to think in two digits. For instance:

Mr. Clock, your snooze setting is for 10 minutes. When the alarm goes off at 5:35am and your owner hits the snooze, you need to wait until 5:45am until you go off again. Yes, Mr. Clock, I know the second digit will go from a "3" to a "4." Can't you count by tens? What, it's easier to count by nines, because you don't have to worry about that second digit? Mr. Clock, don't worry about it. Now, here is what to do if your owner hits the snooze at 5:36am? And so on and so on. Clocks can add, but don't get them all worked up with any equation that requires more than one digit.

Basically, clock makers believed nine was a reasonable amount of minutes to sleep in, and an easy number to build into a clock's snooze function. And so that's just the way it's been ever since. And there have been few complaints. About the snooze time at least.

There have been plenty of complaints about when we all have to wake up.

Try 2:18am for a few weeks!

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