Whether you set your morning alarm to twinkle or crystals or ripples really matters: People who use melodic, song-like alarms avoid dreaded “sleep inertia,” the grogginess and low-arousal of the brain that can stretch up to four hours after waking.
This is the news from a study published in PLoS One, which tracked the waking habits of 73 people: Those who awoke with strongly melodic yet also rhythmic sounds reported the most alertness.
“We think that a harsh beep beep beep might disrupt or confuse our brain activity when waking,” says coauthor Adrian Dyer, an associate professor of communications at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, who suggests that more melodic sounds “may help us transition to a waking state in a more effective way.” Think the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” or the Cure’s “Close to Me.”
The impact of grogginess can be quite serious for workers like drivers and emergency responders who frequently nap on the job: For instance, grogginess was cited as a factor in the 2010 Air India Express crash that resulted in 158 fatalities, in which the pilot was “disoriented” after having just awoken from a nap. Grogginess is well-known to degrade work performance for hours (though creative types often enjoy the low-judgement haze).
The researchers theorize that melodic alarms, like most morning bird songs, gently gain the attention and arousal of the brain, leading to increased cognition. More research is needed to pinpoint the ideal combination of melody and rhythm; in the meantime, you might as well awake to melodic songs rather than your phone’s harp tone, or, god forbid, old car horn.