You know what’s challenging? Waking up every day at the crack of dawn, getting up to get ready for your 9-to-5, dropping your children off at school or going to university. Whatever the reason you’re waking up early, it can be a difficult task, even if you’ve been doing it for years. As children, many of us were awakened by the loving words of our caregivers, which certainly changes in adulthood when we rely mostly on our phones to wake us up in the morning.
The sound you wake up to in the morning — which might be a very loud, horn-like alarm sound or a more soothing option, like the sound of birds singing — can really set you up for a peaceful (or not so peaceful) experience.
There are quite a few options for alarm sounds already in your phone’s ringtone library, whether you use an iOS or Android phone, plus the option of downloading apps with even more choices. It’s also possible to set your favorite song as your morning alarm sound of choice. Between all of those great (and not-so-great) options, which one is the best? Which one makes for an effective and great waking-up experience?
No matter the sound you choose, the first step for waking up feeling great and well-rested is, of course, a good night’s sleep, said Sydney Aten, a neuroscientist specializing in circadian rhythms, sleep and astrocytes at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a research fellow in neurology in the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School.
“Adults, on average, need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night, and that varies from person to person,” Aten said. According to her, the number of hours of sleep you need depends on a few factors, and genes play a considerable role. “There are certain mutations in genes that can cause you to be a longer or shorter sleeper,” she explained.
Your environment, socioeconomic status and life stage are other key factors that determine whether you get a good night of sleep or not (for example, whether you’re a parent or a caregiver to children or older people).
“It’s a privilege to be able to sleep the number of hours your body needs,” Aten said. “Other people don’t have that. The environment plays a huge role, where you’re living, where you’re sleeping; light exposure is big, as well.”
It can also be dependent on health, both physical and mental. “If you’re sick, you’re likely to sleep longer. If you might be feeling depressed, that can also increase or decrease sleep duration,” Aten said.
In other words, you can only wake up well if you slept well. But it’s also possible to sleep well and wake up feeling stressed because of a terrible, distressing alarm sound. So which one is the best?
One small study published in 2020 by researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology suggests that neutral (non-melodic) sounds can increase the length of time you experience morning grogginess, meaning that the wrong alarm sound could make you feel sleepy well into your day.
Would it be the same for me?
“Waking up to loud sounds can add more stress to your day and increase your heart rate, so maybe that’s not optimal.”
- Sydney Aten
I tried, during the course of three weeks from Monday to Friday, a variety of alarm sounds, which I classified into three categories. The first includes very loud horn-like sounds, such as “Alarm” in the iPhone ringtone library, and is apparently designed for everyone who’d like to wake up on a jumpscare every day. The second includes Apple’s default alarm, “Radar,” and Samsung’s “Morning Flower,” which are not as loud as the previous one, but still high-pitched and repetitive. The third category was all about melodic and calming sounds such as iPhone’s “Harp.”
Very Loud Alarm Sounds
I started this experiment by setting up “Alarm” as my designated sound to wake up to. For five consecutive days, I woke up, always at the same time, to this traumatizing sound. On day one, I was already under the impression that there was no worse sound to wake up to, and by day five, I was convinced of it. I’d wake up feeling scared and would reach quickly for my phone so that the alarm wouldn’t wake up my next-door neighbors, too.
As soon as “Alarm” went off, my heart would start racing and I’d wake up in a panic, which according to Aten can add stress to the day and might not be the best choice for a peaceful morning.
“Those really strong alarm sounds can be quite stressful to the body,” she said. “Getting up out of this laying position is already stressful enough, and waking up to loud sounds can add more stress to your day and increase your heart rate, so maybe that’s not optimal.”
Even if you’ve had an incredible night of sleep, you can still wake up feeling stressed and grumpy just because of your alarm sound — which, in my experience, is what happened when I tried Apple’s “Alarm.”
‘Neutral’ Alarm Sounds
For the next phase of my experiment, I tried the infamous “Radar,” Apple’s default alarm, which didn’t make me feel as scared while waking up as “Alarm,“ but still got my heart racing and gave me a feeling of uneasiness.
Aten said that these types of alarms can do the trick and will wake up even heavy sleepers (I took this to mean there’s really no reason to go through the disturbing experience that is “Alarm”).
“For most individuals, it should be able to get you up, even if you’re in that deeper stage of sleep,” she said. “If you can’t get up to that alarm, maybe you should reconsider your bedtime habits in order to get better, more efficient sleep.”
Aten also explained the concept of sleep inertia, which can be useful to help you understand the best possible alarm sound for you. Defining it as “that grogginess that you feel after waking up,” she noted it can last from seconds to minutes, “even up to an hour in certain individuals.”
It’s basically that moment when you’re awake, but not really. For me, I’ve realized that it lasts for about 5-10 minutes.
Why is it relevant for choosing the best possible alarm sound? Well, the aforementioned study from researchers in Melbourne reported that different types of alarm sounds can increase or decrease a person’s period of sleep inertia. The study involved 50 anonymous participants who responded to a questionnaire about their favorite sounds to wake up to. In a surprise to the researchers, non-melodic sounds were found to increase sleep inertia.
“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,” said the study’s lead author, Stuart McFarlane, in a statement. “You would assume that a startling ‘beep beep beep’ alarm would improve alertness, but our data revealed that melodic alarms may be the key element. This was unexpected.”
For this reason, I realized that “Radar” isn’t the alarm sound for me, either. Not only did it scare me when it rang out in the morning, but it wasn’t a pleasant sound to wake up to and made me feel sleepier for longer — i.e., increased my sleep inertia period.
Relaxing And Melodic Alarm Sounds
On week 3, I set up the sound “Birds,” available in the sleep section of Apple’s Health app, which is already downloaded on iOS devices. During this week, I had a much better experience waking up in the morning. “Birds” didn’t scare or disturb me as much as the previous two alarms did. It was a huge improvement, and I woke up feeling more relaxed every day.
However, I’m not a morning person, even though I’m up very early during the week, so I still wasn’t completely set on this alarm sound. I’d hear birds singing happily in my garden and get triggered, thinking it sounded just like my morning alarm. I might have developed an aversion to the sound of birds during this experiment.
This realization brought me to the next option available to all of us in this journey: setting up you favorite song as an alarm sound. For me, it’s “Fearless” by Taylor Swift. However, I was scared I’d start to hate one of my favorite songs if I set it up as my alarm, so I quickly changed my ringtone because I refuse to create an aversion to Taylor Swift, OK? It’s clearly possible to relate feelings to sounds, and I didn’t want to have a Pavlovian negative response to Taylor Swift like some people have to the Slack notification.
So what did I do? I decided that the best option was to exclude sounds altogether from my sleep inertia period. I set my phone to vibrate when my alarm went off, and 5-10 minutes later, which is how long my sleep inertia usually lasts, to use the “Harp” sound. That way, I get a few moments to understand that I’ll be waking up soon, but without lots of disturbance, and then a relaxing sound to let me know that, yes, now it’s time to get up.
To figure out your own best possible alarm sound, it’s important to understand your period of morning grogginess. How long does it last? Pay attention to what point in the morning you start to feel more alert after waking up.
It might be helpful to opt for a melodic sound, such as the sound of a harp or even your favorite song (one of the Melbourne researchers suggested the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” or The Cure’s “Close to Me” as good melodic options). Or you can use the sound of your phone vibrating; however, if you’re a heavy sleeper, be careful as it might be too subtle and you’ll end up oversleeping.
Understanding the different stages of sleep also helps. There’s light sleep, deep sleep, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
“If your alarm goes off when you’re in those deeper stages of sleep, it’s harder to wake up,” Aten said.
How can you fix that? There are apps, such as Sleep Cycle, that will wake you up during your period of lighter sleep. If you need to wake up by 6:30, for example, the app will choose a period between 6:00 and 6:30 when you’re in your lightest sleep stage (depending on the time that you went to bed), making it easier to wake up.
There’s no single, universal answer on what’s the best alarm sound for everyone. It depends on your lifestyle, how well you sleep, and how groggy you tend to feel in the mornings. But the advice I can certainly give to anyone after my experiment is stay away from “Alarm,” and everything else can work out.
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“For most individuals, it should be able to get you up, even if you're in that deeper stage of sleep,” she said.Which alarm sound is best for waking up? ›
A sound that starts relatively quiet and calm and gets progressively loud and energizing is most effective, Giordana says. “Rather than just literally pulling them from sleep into the wakeful state, you're sort of gently escorting them into the wakeful state,” Giordano says.What should I set my alarm sound as? ›
- Open your phone's Clock app .
- At the bottom, tap Alarm.
- On the alarm you want, tap the Down arrow .
- Tap the current sound's name.
- Choose a sound: Pick a sound from the list: Tap it. Use your own sound file: If you've downloaded a sound file to your phone, tap Add new. Your sound file.
Now, music analysts at Startle have revealed the best and worst iPhone alarms to wake up to. Their findings suggest the happy, jingling 'Sencha' is the best choice thanks to its defined tune being in the key of C and having a mid-range speed of 110 beats per minute.What morning alarm for heavy sleepers? ›
- Best with soundscapes: Loftie Alarm Clock.
- Best for kids: Hatch Rest+
- Best sunrise: Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light.
- Best budget: Peakeep Twin Bell Alarm Clock.
- Best vibrating: Sonic Alert Sonic Bomb Alarm Clock.
- Best wearable: Pavlok Shock Clock.
Alarms May Cause Short-Term Performance Loss
Because of sleep cycle interruption, a phenomenon known as sleep inertia often results from alarm use. Sleep inertia is a tired state of poor mental and physical performance, which can last up to four hours after waking.
Silent alarms make waking up easier, healthier, and less disruptive. Overall, they're much better for your health.Does the sound of your alarm matter? ›
The sound of your morning alarm really does matter when it comes to how awake it makes you feel, according to a new study. However, the researchers were surprised as to which type of alarms appeared to serve us best.Why don't my alarms wake me up? ›
Why does it happen? If you don't actually hear your alarm, you could just naturally be a heavy sleeper. According to Dr. Guy Meadows, co-founder and clinical lead at Sleep School, research suggests that deep sleepers have more sleep spindles, a form of brain activity during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.What iPhone alarm sound wakes people up the most? ›
According to the folks over at Startle, some iPhone alarms are better than others at reducing the incidences of sleep inertia. Sencha - the happy jingling tone is the best choice because it's in the key of C and has a mid-range speed of 110 beats per minute.
- Coldplay - Viva La Vida.
- St. Lucia - Elevate.
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Downtown.
- Bill Withers - Lovely Day.
- Avicii - Wake Me Up.
- Pentatonix - Can't Sleep Love.
- Demi Lovato - Confident.
- Arcade Fire - Wake Up.
Without a doubt, the winner of 'The World's Loudest Alarm Clock' title, and part of the Sarabec catalogue of loud alarm clocks, is the Sonic Bomb. It boasts an excessive alarm that can be set up to reach 113dB if necessary.What color alarm clock for sleep? ›
Exposure to white light during the day can have positive effects, including boosting alertness and mood. Red light has no effect on the circadian clock, so you can use a dim red light at night. Yellow and orange light have little effect on the clock so you can use a very dim yellow or orange light at night.How long should you lay in bed after waking up? ›
Light exposure stops the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Staying in Bed Too Long: If you wake up during the night and cannot fall back asleep, experts recommend getting out of bed after 15 to 30 minutes.Is it better to wake up with an alarm or naturally? ›
Studies suggest your mood on waking will be improved when using a light-based alarm clock to wake up. You're more likely to experience cognitive benefits such as improved memory and concentration when you wake up in response to light rather than sound.Is it better to wake up with an alarm clock or phone? ›
The bottom line is that if you're keeping your phone in your bedroom, your brain isn't fully shutting down and it's impeding an optimal night's rest. The solution? If you can't rely on your circadian rhythm to wake you up naturally, revert back to a traditional alarm clock. “Go old-school!” insists Harris.Is it better to wake up with light or sound? ›
Light in the morning, even artificial light from a sunrise alarm, can help reset your circadian rhythm, and help your natural sleeping and waking cycle function optimally.What is the best wake up time? ›
What is the Best Time to Wake Up in the Morning? The best time to wake up in the morning is between 6:30 am to 7. Waking up early is considered to be one of the healthiest morning habits that shape the rest of your day.Is it good to wake up to music? ›
Australian researchers say the type of alarm you use may affect how easily you wake up. More harsh tones may leave you feeling groggy. More melodic alarms may help you wake up more alert.What should you not do when you hear an alarm? ›
Never ignore or assume the alarm is false or the result of a test. Everyone must evacuate the building by way of the safest and closest exit and/or stairway. Never use an elevator to exit during a fire alarm activation.
- Move Your Alarm Clock Away from Your Bed. ...
- Get Moving Right Away. ...
- Try a New Type of Alarm Clock. ...
- Set Two Alarms—One 90 Minutes Before You Want to Wake Up. ...
- Follow a Routine. ...
- Get More Sleep. ...
- Set an Intention. ...
- Do Something Fun.
- Improve your sleep hygiene. ...
- Set your alarm for a realistic time. ...
- Sit up as soon as you wake up. ...
- Turn on a light once your alarm goes off. ...
- Move your alarm clock across the room.
This discrepancy is often due to a heightened state of sleep inertia, a circadian process that modulates memory, mood, reaction time and alertness upon waking, according to a 2015 study. Some people experience impaired performance and grogginess in this period after first turning off the alarm.What alarms are most effective? ›
|Best overall||Sonic Bomb Dual Extra Loud Alarm Clock with Bed Shaker||A 113 dB alarm is sure to wake you up.|
|Best without waking roommates||Shock Clock 2||Wear your sleep on your sleeve and unlearn your snoozing habit.|
|Best budget||Peakeep Twin Bell Alarm Clock||Loud, cute, and cheap.|
The Sonic Dual Loud Alarm Clock performs really well and will wake almost anyone up with its 113 dB volume output. Its loud volume makes it a great choice for heavy sleepers and those who have hearing loss. Even if you can't hear the alarm, the shaker will do the job of waking you up.Why do I sleep through all my alarms? ›
Subpar sleep quality and not getting enough sleep are the leading causes of sleeping through your alarm. Irregular work hours, stress, and the presence of a sleep disorder are other possible contributing factors.What volume should my phone alarm be? ›
Here is how to access alarm volume settings on your Android phone. Go to “Settings.” Scroll down and find “Sound and vibration” in the menu. Find the “Alarm” slider and adjust it to your preference.Is changing alarm sound good? ›
If, like many, you rely on the sound of your phone jingle-jangling to wake up, there could be a super simple way to hack your morning routine and feel more refreshed. Researchers have found that switching your alarm tone to a more melodic sound could help to fend off grogginess.Is it good to change your alarm sound? ›
LPT: If you have troubles waking up in the morning, change the alarm tone every few days. When you become accustomed to the same sound you aren't as alert when you first wake up. Hearing a brand new sound will make you much more alert when you initially awaken.Why can't I hear my alarm? ›
Other health issues can also make it harder to hear your alarm in the morning. Night terrors, sleepwalking, sleep apnea, or a cardiac rhythm sleep disorder can cause you to block out the sound of your alarm in the mornings.
Subpar sleep quality and not getting enough sleep are the leading causes of sleeping through your alarm. Irregular work hours, stress, and the presence of a sleep disorder are other possible contributing factors.Why am I sleeping through my iPhone alarm? ›
If you're sleeping through your alarm, it could be because you're turning your phone's ringer volume all the way down before you go to bed. Instead of using the volume buttons to make your phone silent throughout the day, just use the silent switch (above the volume buttons) to turn your phone's ringer off.How do I make my alarm more effective? ›
By selecting the most calmest and gentlest of alarms first, and then having them rise in volume and intensity with each passing alarm, you'll be able to wake up more gently and not be surprised when it's time for you to get up.Is it better to wake up to multiple alarms? ›
The answer is just one, because setting multiple alarms to wake up may actually be harmful to your health. Despite almost one-third of adults saying they hit the snooze button over and over again, as they feel deprived of sleep, this makes you feel worse.Should you set an alarm every morning? ›
“Your internal body clock will strengthen and you will start to wake naturally at a time that suits you. However, if not setting an alarm is going to make you anxious about sleeping in and missing a train or an important meeting, you should set the alarm,” she adds.Is it better to wake up to music? ›
Australian researchers say the type of alarm you use may affect how easily you wake up. More harsh tones may leave you feeling groggy. More melodic alarms may help you wake up more alert.Should you wake up to music? ›
Anything that calms it down is going to be a good thing. In a few studies, music has been shown to speed up recovery and allow for a lower psychological stress response. We could all use a little less stress.