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How to choose an alarm tone that wakes you up gently

man turning off an alarm clock
Ko Backpacko/Shutterstock

Have you ever had to wake up early and then felt drowsy for the first hour or so? Of course — we’ve all been there. That lag time between being fully asleep in bed and being wide awake and ready to go is called sleep inertia. Everyone deals with it to some extent, but for some, it can last for several hours. Coffee can help. Exercise can help. But if you want to really get started on the right foot, try changing your alarm clock sound from a shocking beep or buzz to an upbeat tune.

Counter the effects of sleep inertia

It may be best to wake up with a song, and science is starting to prove it. A recent study published in January of 2020 suggests that a pleasant song is the best alarm tone to wake up early. Not only is it less of a jolt, but a melodic tune actually improves morning brain function and reduces sleep inertia, or the time it takes to go from asleep to fully awake and alert.

Not everyone likes the same songs, however, so it’s important to understand the qualities of music that seem to work best. Melodic tunes with rhythmic sound and pitch that rises and falls seem to have the most stimulative, energizing effect. According to social neuroscientist, psychologist, and musician Dr. David M. Greenberg, wake-up songs should start soft and build up for a gentle nudge. They should also be positive and have a strong beat.

It may also help to use a song that you know and like. The soothing alarm tones list on your phone may offer something close, but you may want to select something from your music playlist as your wake-up song. The authors of the study highlighted The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations and The Cure’s Close to Me as likely selections. Dr. Greenberg recommends this playlist on Spotify.

Set a wake-up alarm song on your listening device

Your voice-controlled listening device can wake you up with a happy tune. Just link your music streaming service and tell it what you need.

Google Home

On a Google Home device, connect your music streaming service for voice-activated musical wake-up calls. Open the Google Home app, tap the Menu, and select Music. Of the various streaming services that appear, Google Play Music and Spotify will work best with the alarm function. Once you’re linked to a music service, use voice commands to set the alarm by saying, “Hey Google, set an alarm for [time] that plays [song] by [artist].”

Amazon Alexa

Amazon Alexa can reach into your Amazon Music/Music Unlimited, Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM, iHeartRadio, Gimme Radio, Deezer, and Tuneln accounts to pull out your favorite music. Just say, “Alexa, wake me up to [song title] by [artist] at [time].”

woman lying down looking at phone screen

Set a wake-up alarm song on your smartphone

If you use your smartphone as an alarm clock, it could be a quick fix if the song is already on your phone. Apps like iTunes, Apple Music, or Spotify can help, too. We’ll assume you already know how to set an alarm, so let’s skip to the ringtone change.


On an iPhone, open the clock, then select the Alarm icon at the bottom of the screen. Next, select Edit. Tap the Time, and on the next screen that opens, select Sound. Pick a Song will appear as an option on the next screen; tap it, and select your choice from the menu of songs on your phone or from the iTunes or Apple Music app.


On Android phones, the easiest way to set up or change wake-up songs is through a linked Spotify account. You’ll need to download the most recent version of Google’s clock app if it didn’t come installed on your phone. In the clock app, set up an alarm, then tap the Bell icon. Two tabs will appear: Sounds and Spotify. Select the Spotify tab to connect the clock to your account. Allow the music selections to populate in the app, and choose your song.

Hearing a happy tune each morning could go a long way toward improving your mental clarity and mood. Additional sleep inertia countermeasures include improving sleep quality, morning caffeine, taking a short afternoon nap, simulating dawn light just before wake-up time, and going to bed earlier. If nothing seems to help or your symptoms get worse, consult your physician.

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