The Christmas break is over, and it’s time to wean yourself off that diet of mince pies for breakfast and generous lie-ins. While the sound of your alarm going off will never be the most welcome noise in the world, it can at least be more effective.
If you’re an iPhone user, the folks at Startle Music have analysed the built-in alarm tones to find the most effective one for shaking you from your groggy sleep state.
You might assume that this is all down to personal preference but that isn’t the case. Using the findings of a 2020 scientific paper, Startle Music surmised that the ideal alarm ringtone should have a dominant frequency in the 500Hz zone or be in the key of C5; be at around 100 to 120bpm and have a melody that’s easy to hum along to.
With those criteria in mind, five iPhone alarm jingles fit the bill: Sencha, By the Seaside, Uplift, Constellation and Slow Rise.
Here’s that top pick, Sencha, which has a low frequency, is played in C and is right in the tempo sweet spot at 110bpm.
The worst offenders, meanwhile, are Chimes, Beacon, Radar, Signal and Presto, all of which have no melody to speak of, as well as having frequencies between 1.5k and 5k. In other words, they’re likely to jolt you awake and lead to grogginess, confusion and exhaustion. Here’s Chimes to give you a taste of that horror.
What about Android?
Android phones don’t have uniform alarm jingles, and the tunes supplied differ from vendor to vendor. But we took the liberty of sharing five “classics” with Startle Music to get a professional opinion.
Samsung current: Homecoming
The current default on Samsung Galaxy handsets, Homecoming has the kind of “singable melody” that’s “characteristic of an effective alarm”, according to Startle’s playlist manager, Magnus Linn.
But there’s such a thing as too soothing. “It almost sounds like something from the CBeebies show In the Night Garden, so it might actually send you back to sleep rather than wake you up,” he adds.
Samsung classic: Morning Flower
You don’t need to listen to this entire 10-hour (!) mix to get the handle on the melody of Morning Flower, featured on early Galaxy handsets. “This one has a Latin American vibe about it, with its Habanera-like rhythmic motif,” said Linn. “Not the most singable melody, but it is in C major which is a bonus point in relation to alarm effectiveness.
“It’s more likely to get you up and dancing” compared with the current one, Linn said.
Google Pixel: Fresh Start
With Android 12 and the Pixel 6, Google introduced Fresh Start as the default alarm sound. But, overall, Linn isn’t that impressed with the fresh start it offers.
“According to the parameters on which we based the analysis of the iPhone alarms, this alarm would not necessarily be that effective,” he said. “It has quite a forgettable melody and irregular pulse.”
So, back to the drawing board? It’s not completely without its charms. “It is in the key of C, which can improve an alarm’s effectiveness,” Linn conceded. But, ultimately, it’s “not as exciting as some alarms on the iPhone like By the Seaside and Sencha”.
LG’s singalong alarms
LG has long left the smartphone plane but its maddeningly catchy and uniquely literal takes on “good morning” jingles will forever be in the heads of former owners.
We sent two examples to Startle for analysis. The first is this choir singing the words “good” and “morning” with far more cheer than anybody should have first thing:
“To give it credit, it would make you get out of bed to turn it off,” said Linn, highlighting the “menacing” way that it “raises pitch with the beginning of each phrase repetition”.
What about this slightly more harmonious version of the theme found in the LG G3?
It is “similarly repetitive” though Linn noted “some chromatic harmonic movement towards the end”.
Overall, however, LG’s contributions to the genre remain “a bit harder to analyse”. Which sounds like a generous attempt at being diplomatic to us.
Beyond alarm clocks
Feeling alert in the morning is more than just having an alarm tone that doesn’t make you want to rip your ears off, of course.
For starters, you’ll want to pick a sleep pattern and stick to it – yes, even on weekends. If you have set bed and wake times, you’ll find it easier to feel fully compos mentis throughout your day.
Likewise, you should also avoid ignoring your alarm. Hitting snooze may feel like an easy way of getting an extra 10 minutes, but it’s not going to make much of a difference and can ultimately prove counterproductive, raising your heart rate and making you feel even more tired when the alarm sounds a second (or third) time.
Finally, waking up gently to natural light generally leads to feeling better rested – though that’s easier said than done in these dark winter months. For that reason, consider investing in one of the best sunrise wake-up light alarm clocks to mimic the sun’s rays when the real thing isn’t available.