Waking up to a harsh alarm clock can leave you groggy

Waking up to the harsh ‘beeping’ of an alarm clock can make you MORE groggy during the day – but being coaxed awake with gentle music improves alertness

  • Researchers from Australia surveyed 50 people about their wake-up routines
  • The team were investigating what causes morning grogginess — or ‘sleep inertia’
  • They were surprised to find that traditional, harsh alarms were less effective
  • The findings may have implications for workers who need to be alert first thing

If your morning routine is less ‘up with the lark’ and more ‘shambolic zombie’, you may benefit from switching to a less harsh wake-up call.

Researchers from Australia found that gentle, melodic alarms can leave you more alert in the morning while harsh beeping and klaxons make you more groggy.

The findings could have important implications for those who need to be at peak performance soon after waking — such as emergency first responders.

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If your morning routine is less ‘up with the lark’ and more ‘shambolic zombie’, you may benefit from switching to a less harsh wake-up call, researchers have found (stock image)

Morning grogginess — also known as ‘sleep inertia’ — is a serious problem in our busy 24-hour world, said doctoral researcher Stuart McFarlane of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

‘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,’ he added.

In their study, Mr McFarlane and colleagues recruited 50 participants to completed an online survey about their chosen alarm call and their morning sleep inertia.

Each individual reported what type of sound they used to wake them up and also rated their waking alertness and grogginess levels against standardised criteria. 

‘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,’ Mr McFarlane 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.’

However, he added, the same applied ‘for anyone who has to be rapidly alert, such as someone driving to hospital in an emergency.’

Researchers from Australia found that gentle, melodic alarms can leave you more alert in the morning, pictured, while harsh beeping and klaxons make you more groggy (stock image)

The findings of the study could help experts to design more efficient wake-up alarms for people to use on their devices, paper author Adrian Dyer said.

‘We think that a harsh “beep beep beep” might work to disrupt or confuse our brain activity when waking,’ he added.

‘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.’

‘This study is important, as even NASA astronauts report that sleep inertia affects their performance on the International Space Station.’

‘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.’

The full findings of the study were published in the journal PLoS One. 


Our internal circadian rhythms, or our body clock, when working correctly, is responsible for waking our bodies up in the morning and ensuring they get a good night’s rest.

In a healthy person, cortisol levels peak at around 8am, which wakes us up (in theory), and drop to their lowest at 3am the next day, before rising back to its peak five hours later.

Ideally, this 8am peak will be triggered by exposure to sunlight, if not an alarm. When it does, the adrenal glands and brain will start pumping adrenaline. 

By mid-morning, the cortisol levels start dropping, while the adrenaline (for energy) and serotonin (a mood stabiliser) keep pumping. 

At midday, metabolism and core body temperature ramp up, getting us hungry and ready to eat.

After noon, cortisol levels start their steady decline. Metabolism slows down and tiredness sets in. 

Gradually the serotonin turns into melatonin, which induces sleepiness. 

Our blood sugar levels decrease, and at 3am, when we are in the middle of our sleep, cortisol levels hit a 24-hour low.

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