The shrill “beep beep beep” of a morning alarm startles many of us into consciousness, with some feeling groggy for hours.
Research has shown the sound of our wake up call can affect how sprightly we are first thing.
To learn more, scientists from RMIT University in Melbourne asked 50 people their preferred alarm.
The volunteers who ranked the sound as “melodic” where less likely to suffer sleep inertia, a potentially dangerous reduction in alertness that can last up to four hours.
“We think 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 author associate Professor Adrian Dyer said.
Sleep inertia is a “transitional sleep-wake phenomenon” defined by “low arousal and reduced cognition”, the scientists wrote in the journal PLOS One.
While many of us go to work feeling groggy, the effect can be fatal.
For example, sleep inertia has been blamed for the 2010 Air India Express air crash disaster that killed 158 people, with the captain reportedly recently waking from an inflight nap.
READ MORE: Could 'moon breathing' help you sleep?
“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,” lead author Stuart McFarlane said.
While the effect can be long-lasting, most feel fully awake within 15 minutes, according to Chemist-4-U.
To learn more, the volunteers completed an online survey that logged the sound they hear when they wake up.
They then rated their grogginess and alertness according to standard sleep inertia criteria.
Participant-reported sleep inertia was not linked to the actual sound of their alarm or their feeling towards it.
There was an association, however, between the volunteers ranking the noise as melodic and a reduction in inertia compared to unmelodic or neutral sounds.
READ MORE: The best sleep aids to help you nod off
“You would assume a startling “beep beep beep” alarm would improve alertness, but our data revealed melodic alarms may be the key element,” Mr McFarlane said.
“This was unexpected.”
The scientists hope their results will benefit those who have to “perform at their peak soon after waking”, like shift workers or emergency responders.
“Although more research is needed to better understand the precise combination of melody and rhythm that might work best, considering most people use alarms to wake up, the sound you choose may have important ramifications,” Mr McFarlane 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.”
Professor Dyer added: “Even NASA astronauts report sleep inertia affects their performance on the International Space Station”.