Always groggy? Waking up to melodic alarm better for alertness than beeps, bells

MELBOURNE, Australia — If you’re looking for some extra pep in your step each morning, a new study finds it may be as simple as waking up to some music. Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia say that waking up to a more melodic alarm in the morning improves alertness, while harsh alarm tones cause more grogginess.

While most of us can probably appreciate some extra alertness in the morning, these findings are especially important for emergency medical technicians, first responders, or anyone else required to wake up at peak alertness at unusual times.

According to RMIT doctoral researcher and lead author Stuart McFarlane, grogginess, or what he and his research team call sleep inertia, is a serious problem for many who feel they have to be “always on.”

“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 says in a media release. “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,” he adds. “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.”

The researchers distributed 50 online surveys, one to each participant. Each individual reported the alarms they used to wake up in the morning, then rated their grogginess and alertness levels using standardized sleep inertia criteria.

Co-author Adrian Dyer, an associate professor at RMIT’s School of Media and Communication, says these findings could help millions of people across countless industries use their own phones and alarm clocks to wake up with improved efficiency.

“This study is important, as even NASA astronauts report that sleep inertia affects their performance on the International Space Station,” Dyer comments. “We think 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.”

The study is published in PLoS One.

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