Your Harsh Alarm Sound May Be the Reason Why You Feel Groggy After Waking Up

Your choice of alarm could affect how groggy you feel after waking up, research indicates.

A team of Australian scientists from RMIT University in Melbourne found that melodic alarms were linked to reductions in perceived "sleep inertia," (SI) according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

SI is the reduction in alertness and cognition experienced up to four hours after waking, the researchers said. This phenomenon can affect human performance in a variety of ways, and can even have fatal consequences for those in certain professions.

For example, investigators say that SI experienced by the captain during the 2010 Air India Express air disaster—which resulted in the deaths of 158 people—could have been a factor in the crash.

The captain had reportedly just woken up from an in-flight nap when the crash occurred, and some experts say that poor decisions made in these moments can be, at least in part, attributed to SI.

"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," Stuart McFarlane, an author of the study from RMIT, said in a statement. "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 said. "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."

For their study, the researchers surveyed 50 people using an online questionnaire, asking various questions about the types of sounds that they used for their alarms and how alert they tended to feel after waking up.

The results revealed that the participants who rated their alarm sound as being "melodic" tended to report perceived reductions in SI compared to "unmelodic" or harsh sounds.

The study is limited by the fact that the results are based on self-reported survey responses and, thus, the researchers did not directly test how SI is linked to the type of alarm tone. However, they do suggest a potential mechanism to explain the results that they recorded.

alarm clock
Stock photo: The sound of your alarm could have an impact on how groggy you feel in the morning. iStock

"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," Adrian Dyer, another author of the study from RMIT, said in the statement.

"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," he said.

The scientists hypothesize that musical elements may be related to the perceived intensity of SI. However, they say more research is needed to determine whether or not this is the case.