Waking up to get to the office now that COVID-19 restrictions are lifting is rough. If you’re feeling groggy af every morning, your alarm sound might have something to do with it. 

Research from RMIT has suggested we’ve been waking up all wrong for years and the default alarms on your phone may not be great for “effective waking”. 

In an article for the Conversation published on Friday, RMIT researcher of Auditory Perception and Cognition Stuart McFarlane said some alarm sounds can enhance alertness upon waking and people should be choosing theirs more mindfully.

McFarlane explained that when we wake up it’s not like an on/off switch, it takes time and requires increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Certain sounds and music can actually increase blood flow, therefore waking you up faster and better. 

Alarm tones that are “tuneful” and upbeat like ABC by the Jackson 5 are energising and can wake you up effectively without leaving you groggy or in a cognitive state of reduced alertness known as sleep inertia, which can be dangerous if you need to drive right after you wake up.

The research found people who use alarms that are tunes they know, enjoy and would hum along to experienced less grogginess than those who used a standard beeping alarm.

So you should pick a familiar song — one that you like.

You should select something that is around a frequency of 500Hz: not too high-pitched but not so low you won’t hear it.

Your alarm should also be uptempo, but nothing crazy fast or you’ll wake up feeling stressed. McFarlane said something around 100 – 120 beats per minute was ideal. 

Volume is also a factor and the right volume actually depends on your age. 

Teenagers and pre-teens require the loudest alarms to wake effectively and people aged 18 to 25 need louder alarms than older people. Despite our hearing often deteriorating as we age, an 18-year-old may require an alarm that’s 20 decibels louder than an 80-year-old would. 

If you don’t want to taint one of your favourite songs by associating it with waking up for work, try  this experimental alarm tone McFarlane and his team designed. He said it’s melody and rhythm were ideal for reducing grogginess and increasing alertness.

Oh and if you’re feeling groggy you should probably go to bed earlier. That might help too.