Study: Harsh alarms make you groggy while melodic tones make you feel more alert when you wake up
11/24/2021 // Matthew Davis // Views

Australian researchers have found that harsh tones may leave you feeling groggy, while melodic alarms may help you feel more alert when you wake up. This finding could be of use to many people, including emergency responders and airline pilots, who are required by duty to wake up quickly and be alert.

Published in the PLOS One journal, the study involved 50 people. All of them were given a questionnaire that they could complete anonymously at home.

The researchers asked the respondents about the type of sound they prefer to wake up to, how they feel about that sound and how alert or groggy they feel after waking up.

The results showed that the participants had an easier time waking up alert with melodic alarms than with harsh or jarring tones.

Lead author Stuart McFarlane, a doctoral researcher at RMIT University, explained that what makes a tone be perceived as melodic is the presence of at least two notes, time and the sequence in which the notes are sounded in relation to each other.

A melody is perceived as an "articulate entity or musical phrase," McFarlane said. He cited the introduction to Madonna's song "Borderline" as an example of a melodic alarm. McFarlane theorized that the rise and fall of notes in a more melodic alarm helps to focus brain attention.

This is in contrast to an alarm that repeats a single note, like a traditional alarm clock or an alarm that's tuned in to a talk radio station. A more monotonous "beep beep beep" alarm might raise anxiety and promote confusion.

McFarlane said: "If we can counteract the symptoms of sleep inertia by any measure through the alarm sounds we use, it would be a great benefit to many."


Sleep inertia is the grogginess that we tend to feel when waking up. It can temporarily impair our ability to think, remember and react. While it normally lasts about 30 minutes, it's sometimes been reported to last as long as two to four hours, noted McFarlane.

Research dealing with sleep inertia has important implications for people like emergency responders, airline pilots and astronauts, who must be able to function well after waking up.

McFarlane said it is possible to design alarm sounds that could be utilized in a variety of industries and for the general public. "At the very least, we can create best practice guidelines for alarm sound design that helps reduce sleep inertia."

Jennifer Doering, associate dean for academic affairs and associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing, cautioned that the study has several design flaws.

Doering stressed that the study involved only a small sample of people, the authors didn’t screen for sleep disorders and there were no controls. "It's difficult to draw any conclusions about what it really means," Doering said.

How to wake up refreshed

While it's a bit premature to make any firm recommendations regarding alarm tones, Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler, a pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist, said that there are several other things you can do to ensure that you're waking up as refreshed as possible.

Those things include getting enough sleep; keeping a regular sleep and wake schedule; avoiding alcohol at bedtime; and being more active during the day.

Meanwhile, a study in Sweden suggests that losing sleep may lead to weight gain. Those who have chronic sleep problems, work irregular shift hours or burn the midnight oil looking at their smartphones could be running the risk of slowing down their metabolism.

The small observational study looked at 15 adults who were at normal weight and then had them go through two lab sessions. In one, they slept for eight hours. In the other, they were kept awake the entire night. After each session, researchers took tissue samples from the subcutaneous fat – the fat that rests under your skin – and skeletal muscle.

This was done because these tissues can show where metabolism has been impacted by obesity and diabetes. Blood samples were also taken.

Researchers found the people who lost a night of sleep displayed a tissue-specific shift in DNA methylation, a process that regulates gene expression. Those who got a normal night's sleep didn't show this change

The researchers behind the study say that these findings could be significant in helping people better understand the adverse effects sleep loss can have on a person's body and overall health.

Sources include: 1 2

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