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Struggling to wake up? Try changing your alarm tune

Struggling to wake up? Try changing your alarm tune

Written by

James Picken


November 16, 2022



Some alarms can contribute to sleep inertia where you feel groggy, confused and tired

As the mornings get darker and winter edges closer, many of us will be finding it hard to jump out of bed. That’s because our bodies are programmed to produce more melatonin at this time of year, known as the ‘sleepy hormone’.

This can lead to sleep inertia in the morning where you feel groggy, confused and exhausted. And how you feel when you wake up is also influenced by other factors too, including genes, lifestyle and quality of sleep.

At Startle, we know the impact music can have on our behaviour and emotions, so it was no surprise to us that our choice of alarm could be partially to blame.

If you’re one of the 2.2 billion iPhone owners, take note.

What are the good and bad alarms?

We conducted a review of scientific evidence, and found that the perfect alarm has a melody you can sing or hum along to, a dominant frequency around 500 Hz or in the key of C5 and is not too fast or too slow (100 – 120 beats per minute is ideal). We then tested each default iPhone alarm sound against these three criteria to rank them from best to worst.

Sencha’ is crowned as the best iPhone alarm to wake up to, reducing your risk of waking up on the wrong side of the bed thanks to its easy melody played in key C, BPM of 110 and low frequency (500 Hz).

By the Seaside’ and ‘Uplift’ also share many of the same characteristics that help the mind and body wake up gently and minimise the risk of unpleasant sleep inertia.

How do alarm clocks work?

Luke Cousins, Physiology Regional Lead at Nuffield Health explains:

“The process of waking up is controlled by your reticular activating system (RAS). This restricts how your body responds to external stimuli when asleep and how you transition to being awake. An alarm clock is designed to stimulate the RAS, telling your body to wake up. The jolt of an alarm clock can be especially strong if you’re in the deep sleep phase of sleep, leaving you with an increased heart rate and groggy feeling in the morning that can last several hours.”

The study suggests the worst iPhone alarms to wake up to are Presto, Signal, Radar, Beacon, and Chimes based on their risk of jolting you awake and promoting sleep inertia. These sounds lack melody, instead favouring short and sharp bursts of noise, and have much higher frequencies than recommended.

iPhone alarm clocks ranked from best to worst

Alarm Name Easy Melody Hz Key BPM
Yes 500 C 110
Yes 500 C 108
Yes 500 C 114
Yes 500 C 127
Yes 400 C 110
Yes 300-500 Bb 115
No 500-2k F 120
Yes 300 F 120
Yes 300-500 C 70
Yes 300 Eb minor 135
Yes 300-500 C 140
Yes 200-500 C 72
Yes 300-500 F 150
Yes 1k F- 108
Yes 1-2k E 130
Yes 2-6k G 80
No 500 C 99
No 300-500 F N/A
No 650 Ambiguous root, either E- or C N/A
No 300-800 C N/A
No 300 No tonal centre, a repeated D note N/A
No 1-2k A N/A
No 1.3k No tonal centre, a repeated E flat note N/A
No 1.5k No tonal centre, a repeated F note N/A
No 1.7k No tonal centre, a repeated G note N/A
No 2k No tonal centre, a repeated F# note N/A
No 2k No tonal centre, a repeated C# note N/A
No 5k C N/A

What else can we do to wake up on the right side of bed?

Luke also recommends these tips:

1. Get to know your internal clock

Understanding your genetic chronotype can help you figure out the best time for you to wake up. If you’re naturally a night owl – it may be easier for you to wake up a bit later and if you’re an early bird, go to bed at a sensible time.

Waking up at the end of a sleep cycle, when you’re sleeping the lightest, is the best way to wake up feeling refreshed. This is also when it is easiest for external stimuli, like noise and light, to wake you up.

2. Keep a consistent sleep-wake schedule

Your body’s internal clock is sensitive and keeping an irregular schedule can make it difficult for your body to adjust to different waking times. This includes trying to stick to similar times at the weekend too and avoid being part of the 10 percent of UK adults that only get 2-4 hours of sleep a night. Ideally, your body needs a minimum of eight hours.

3. Let the light in

Light has a large influence on waking you up, so allowing light to filter into your room slowly is a great way to signal to your body that it’s time to wake up. In autumn and winter, consider using a sunrise clock which can wake you up gently with light mimicking the rising sun.

4. Avoid hitting the snooze button

Consistently hitting the snooze button can mess with your body’s clock. Not only is a ten-minute snooze not long enough to get some restorative sleep, but it can increase your heart rate and make you feel even more tired when your alarm goes off again.

Why not change your alarm and see if it makes a difference?

Music sounds better with Startle. We’re a talented tech company providing background background music, bespoke profiling, digital signage and mobile experiences.

Hey, we've just met you and this is crazy. But here's our number +44 (0)203 397 7676. So, call us maybe? Or get in touch here.

Struggling to wake up? Try changing your alarm tune

James Picken

Creative Director at Startle. It's my job to produce and execute our music output, making sure everything is sounding, feeling and performing just right for our customers. When I'm not doing this, you can find me either walking my dog, remixing 90s divas on Logic Pro X, returning overdue library books or throwing weights about in the gym.

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Hey, we've just met you and this is crazy. But here's our number +44 (0)203 397 7676. So, call us maybe?

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