How do you wake up in the morning? Do you use an alarm clock, an alarm on your phone, nature sounds, news, or your favorite music? A study published last month in PLOS says that you might be unknowingly enhancing—or sabotaging—your ability to shake off grogginess and get the day started with your choice of wakeup sounds.
That clumsy, groggy feeling you have when you first wake up can take minutes or, sometimes, even hours to wear off. It’s called sleep inertia, and you are definitely not functioning at your cognitive best when you’re experiencing it. Sleep inertia is the transition point between sleeping and waking that occurs each time you wake up, and it can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours.
Decision-making and reflex times are especially hampered by sleep inertia, and it can pose an occupational hazard to those people with jobs in the navigation industry to hospital workers to the sleep-deprived truck drivers. Instead of fighting sleep inertia with a myriad of supplements, caffeine, uppers, or cold showers, consider changing your wakeup call tune.
About 68% of people use an alarm to wake up, and 26.3% use an alarm on their cell phones, followed by 23% using a traditional alarm clock, and 14.9% using a traditional clock radio. The study found that harsh alarms (such as the traditional beeping of alarm clocks) was not conducive to working through the sleep inertia more quickly. Musical and melodic tones reduced the amount of time it took people to wake up and is the better choice for wakeup sounds.
One hypothesis presented by the research team for the effectiveness of musical tones could be related to birdsong at dawn, which has been used across many cultures as an “ecological waking sound.”
McFarlane, Stuart J., et al. “Alarm Tones, Music and Their Elements: Analysis of Reported Waking Sounds to Counteract Sleep Inertia.” PLOS One, 28 Jan. 2020, doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0215788.