One of the worst sounds in the world has to be your morning alarm ringing. That annoying beeping sound is what signals the transition from warm, soothing bliss into a rush of work, assignments, and deadlines. However, there is a way you can make this transition a little bit easier for yourself.
A recent study published in PLOSOne found that the type of alarm you wake up to affects how alert you feel, regardless of whether you like the sound or not. Contrary to popular belief, melodic alarms were found to help with alertness while harsher sounds were linked to feelings of grogginess and sleep inertia.
Sleep inertia is defined as “a period of impaired performance and reduced vigilance following awakening from the regular sleep episode or from a nap.” Most people just find it annoying, but it is actually a pretty serious problem in our world.
“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,” said Stuart McFarlane, a researcher at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), to Psych Central.
“You would assume that a startling ‘beep beep beep’ alarm would improve alertness, but our data revealed that melodic alarms may be the key element. This was unexpected. 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,” continued McFarlane, “like firefighters or pilots, but also for anyone who has to be rapidly alert, such as someone driving to hospital in an emergency.”
In this study, 50 participants were required to complete an online survey that asked them about the type of alarm they woke up to, and about sleep inertia. They found that while there was no significant relationship between sleep inertia and the type of alarm, there was a correlation between the melody of the alarm and sleep inertia. People who woke up to melodic alarms experienced less sleep inertia than those who woke up to any other type of alarm. This happened regardless of how people felt about the alarm.
This does seem a bit odd, and researchers don’t know the exact mechanism behind it, but associate professor Adrian Dyer from RMIT states that “a harsh ‘beep beep beep’ might work to disrupt or confuse our brain activity when waking, while a more melodic sound like the Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’ or The Cure’s ‘Close to Me’ may help us transition to a waking state in a more effective way.”
This makes sense since waking up to a gradual melody is probably easier on the brain than the dramatic change from a harsher sound.
Dyer concluded by saying, “If we can continue to improve our understanding of the connection between sounds and waking state, there could be potential for applications in many fields, particularly with recent advancements in sleep technology and artificial intelligence.”