Do you often feel like you wake up on the wrong side of the bed? When you wake up groggy does it tend to have a negative effect on the rest of your morning? If so, there may be a simple, gentle fix: switching the sound of your alarm.
According to a study conducted at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and published in the journal PLoS One, a melodic alarm can heighten your sense of alertness in the morning, while a beeping alarm can leave you feeling groggy.
To conduct the investigation, researchers created an anonymous, self-reported online questionnaire to interview their subjects. A total of 50 volunteers participated and responded to a variety of questions and open-ended prompts about their preferred waking sound, their feelings toward that sound, and their perceived sleep inertia. For context, sleep inertia is defined as the transitional state between sleep and wake. It is characterized by grogginess, impaired mental and physical performance, and a strong desire to go back to bed.
The data didn’t show a significant connection between sleep inertia and feelings toward each sound. However, researchers were intrigued to see that people who enjoyed melodic elements in their alarms, like rhythm and a catchy melody, reported feeling less groggy in the morning. Meanwhile, neutral sounds, which were neither melodic nor unmelodic, were linked to heightened feelings of grogginess. A secondary analysis showed that participants rated melodic sounds as more rhythmic and easier to wake up to than neutral sounds. Researchers therefore concluded that an alarm sound with a melody and a rhythm, like a favorite song, can better help the body adjust to waking up.
Why is this study important? As noted by the lead author Stuart McFarlane, RMIT doctoral researcher, sleep inertia can be incredibly dangerous for people who have odd job hours.
“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,” McFarlane explained. “Although more research is needed to better understand the precise combination of melody and rhythm that might work best, considering that most people use alarms to wake up, the sound you choose may have important ramifications. This is particularly important for people who might work in dangerous situations shortly after waking, like firefighters or pilots, but also for anyone who has to be rapidly alert, such as someone driving to hospital in an emergency.”
McFarlane also said he and his team were surprised to see that beeping alarms were linked to lower levels of alertness. After examining the data, however, they have a theory: Those alarm sounds are somewhat harsh, and may disrupt or confuse brain activity as a person wakes up. In contrast, a song that participants enjoyed, like “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys or “Close to Me” by the Cure, may help prime the brain for a smoother transition into consciousness.
So, the next time that you need to get up early, try not to set five or so alarms with loud, urgent beeps. That fire alarm sound that so many of us use is off limits! Go easy on yourself and pick a song you love and you may never wake up groggy again.