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How The Sound Of Your Alarm Affects Grogginess & Which Is Best

Hand Turning off an Old Fashioned Alarm Clock
Image by Yaroslav Danylchenko / Stocksy
February 3, 2020

If you've ever set an obnoxious-sounding alarm, thinking it would help you wake up faster, think again.

We've all experienced sleep inertia1 at some point: Anywhere within your first few hours of waking up, you feel out of it, sleepy, or even nauseous.

But according to a team of researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, your preference in alarms may be affecting how you feel upon waking up. Namely, according to their research, melodic alarms may help mitigate sleep inertia2.

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May the best alarm win.

To conduct the study, researchers had 50 participants complete an online survey. Each person recorded what kind of alarm they used, along with how they felt upon waking up, hearing the alarm, and subsequent feelings of grogginess or alertness.

Their answers were then compared against the standard criteria for sleep inertia, to find whether certain sounds or tunes positively or negatively affected the participants' initial waking hours.

The findings suggested that sounds or songs described as melodic were strongly linked with less reported sleep inertia, while un-melodic or neutral sounds and songs were linked with more reported sleep inertia.

Associate professor and co-author of the study Adrian Dyer, Ph.D., explains, "A more melodic sound may help us transition to a waking state in a more effective way.

A melodic wake-up call.

For anyone who's struggled to wake up in the morning, these findings offer a novel approach to try out, especially if your work requires you to wake up quickly.

"This is particularly important for people who might work in dangerous situations shortly after waking, like firefighters or pilots," says lead author of the study and doctoral researcher Stuart McFarlane, "but also for anyone who has to be rapidly alert, such as someone driving to hospital in an emergency."

Indeed, in a world of shift-work, medical emergencies, and 8 a.m. college classes, we could all use a hand when first waking up. And as McFarlane notes, "If you don't wake properly, your work performance can be degraded for periods up to four hours, and that has been linked to major accidents."

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What's next.

Moving forward, the team hopes this research will help people make informed decisions when setting their alarms, so they can wake up effectively and avoid the effects of sleep inertia.

"If we can continue to improve our understanding of the connection between sounds and waking state," Dyer says, "there could be potential for applications in many fields, particularly with recent advancements in sleep technology."

The study notes more research is necessary to better understand exactly how melody and rhythm affect waking up, but the existing evidence supports melodic alarms for a better wake-up call. So, keep that in mind the next time you set your alarm, and to take it one step further, set your default ringtone to a melodic one, should you be woken up by a midnight phone call.

For more tactics to help your morning run smoother, check out this yogi's morning routine to get grounded, as well as the importance of setting a sleep schedule, to ensure both a good night's sleep and a solid start to the day.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.
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