Musical Alarms Can Help Us Feel More Awake in the Morning, Study Suggests


Feb 18, 2020


Image Credit: Shutterstock

Some people are early birds. Some people are … decidedly not, experiencing grogginess, confusion, a lack of coordination, and more, after waking up in the morning. But a new (albeit fairly lightweight) study provides a potential life hack for the latter: waking up to a melodic alarm might be the secret to how to feel more awake in the morning.

Published in the journal PLOS One, the study of only 50 people found that participants who awakened to melodic alarms reported feeling more alert than participants who awakened to abrupt, mechanical – beeping or buzzing – tones. The latter participants reported grogginess well into the first couple of hours after waking.

The finding surprised researchers, who expected the opposite result.

“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,” the study’s lead author, Stuart McFarlane, a doctoral researcher at The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), in Melbourne, Australia, said in a press release. “This was unexpected.”

While this study in no way proves a melodic alarm will dispel any and all sleep inertia – that heavy, disoriented, sleepy feeling that persists after waking – it offers an avenue for future research for scientists, as well as harmless experimentation for the average person.

“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,” study co-author (and possible classic rock superfan) Adrian Dyer said in the press release; Dyer is an associate professor at RMIT’s School of Media and Communication and Digital Ethnography Research Centre.

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Regardless of the underlying mechanism, researchers say their finding, and any future research it inspires, could have important effects for professionals whose jobs depend on waking alertly, such as firefighters or pilots. (A 2010 Air India crash has been attributed to the pilot’s sleep inertia after waking from a nap.) And if it helps the rest of us feel a little more awake in the mornings – well, that’s just a bonus.

The study did not, however, explore whether all melodic alarms are created equal in their dispelling of sleep inertia. It’s possible waking to, say, certain heavy metal songs might have a similar effect as a mechanical alarm. So, if you’re someone who longs to feel more awake in the morning by transitioning to a melodic alarm, here’s a brief (and completely non-scientific) list of suggestions around the best songs to wake up to, courtesy of The Swaddle team:

  • Here Comes The Sun, The Beatles
  • Perfect Day, Hoku
  • It’s a Beautiful Day, U2
  • Good Day Sunshine, The Beatles
  • TiK ToK, Ke$ha
  • Wake Me Up Before You Go Girl, Wham!
  • Jaago Zara, Lifafa
  • Sooraj Ki Baahon Mein (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara soundtrack), Clinton Cerejo and Loy Mendosa
  • Manic Monday, The Bangles
  • Miniyamba, Yeahman ft. Mina & Hajna
  • Feel It Still, Portugal. The Man
  • Subah, Faridkot
  • Still Feel, Half Alive


Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor.


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