Could melodic alarms improve morning alertness?

shutterstock_315886649I get it, you’re not a morning person….  Beep beep beep or Beach Boys?

Apparently, the sounds you wake up to could be affecting how groggy and clumsy you are in the morning, according to new research by RMIT University.   They seem to think melodic alarms could improve alertness levels, with harsh alarm tones linked to increased levels of morning grogginess.

The surprising finding could have important implications for anyone who needs to perform at their peak soon after waking, such as shift workers and emergency first responders or any other form of work where mental alertness is needed around dangerous situations.

“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 RMIT doctoral research, Stuart McFarlane said.  “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.”

“This study is important, as even NASA astronauts report that sleep inertia affects their performance on the International Space Station,”  added Co-author Associate Professor Adrian Dyer. “We think that 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. If we can continue to improve our understanding of the connection between sounds and waking state, there could be potential for applications in many fields, particularly with recent advancements in sleep technology and artificial intelligence.”

The study, ‘Alarm tones, music and their elements: Analysis of reported waking sounds to counteract sleep inertia’, with co-authors Dr Jair Garcia (School of Media and Communication) and Dr Darrin Verhagen (School of Design), is published in PLoS ONE (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0215788).


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