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Does your alarm affect how well you wake up?

Last night I decided to set my alarm an hour early, and in a desperate attempt to drag myself out of bed I set my alarm to the loudest most annoying church bell sound I could find.

Instead of rousing me from my deep slumber, the annoying chime of bells became part of my dream and suddenly I was a child sitting bored in church.

My back-up alarm, set to Aerosmith’s ‘Back in the saddle’, did jolt me awake, but left me in a state of foggy confusion.

It turns out that science could provide the reason for this. New research from RMIT finds that the sounds we wake up to could determine how groggy and clumsy we are in the morning.

They found that waking to melodic alarms could improve alertness levels and this could be particularly important for any workers that need to hit their mental peak soon after waking – especially shift workers such as nurses.

Lead author, RMIT doctoral researcher Stuart McFarlane, says that if you don’t wake properly your work performance can be affected for periods of up to four hours and this grogginess has been linked to major accidents.

“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,” he said.

“Although more research is needed to better understand the precise combination of melody and rhythm that might work best, considering that most people use alarms to wake up, the sound you choose may have important ramifications.

“This is particularly important for people who might work in dangerous situations shortly after waking, like firefighters or pilots, but also for anyone who has to be rapidly alert, such as someone driving to hospital in an emergency.”

Co-author Associate Professor Adrian Dyer, from RMIT’s School of Media and Communication and Digital Ethnography Research Centre, said the research could help design more efficient ways to wake up properly.

“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,” he said.

Now if only researchers could figure out a way to stop me snoozing 10 times every morning, I might get up in time to put my new found alertness to good use.

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