November 16, 2022
We're all too familiar with the moment when our alarms go off, and we just can't find the courage to jump out of bed. It's even harder in the colder and darker months - that’s because our bodies are programmed to produce more melatonin in winter, 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.
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?
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