According to professor and sleep expert Dr. Till Roenneberg, none. He feels so strongly about the matter that he’s writing a book called “An Obituary for the Alarm Clock.” When we asked him if any sounds, pitches, or patterns made for a smoother morning, he said that was like “asking a nutrition expert which kind of potato chips are healthiest.” Waking up without an alarm is the only way to ensure you get the sleep you need.
Though he concedes that occasional use isn’t detrimental, Dr. Roenneberg prefers we rely on our biological clocks rather than forced wake-ups at a socially mandated time.
Unfortunately, society hasn’t caught on. A March 2017 study reveals that only 8% have mastered self wake-ups. Of the 20,000 people surveyed, 18,400 wake up to an alarm.
How Alarms Affect Our Body & Mind
Part of the problem with our alarms is how they wake us up. For some reason, the cacophony of yesteryear’s analog devices has endured the test of time.
All those beeps, bells, and buzzes could be damaging to our health. Sleep specialist Michael J. Decker recently told the MIT Technology Review that aggressive alarms trigger a physiological response. Noises that startle us awake activate our nervous system and cause stress.
And our alarm’s effects last well beyond that first cup of coffee. Dr. Kristine Wilckens of the University of Pittsburgh’s Sleep and Chronobiology Center told us that it takes about two hours to stop experiencing sleep inertia — that groggy feeling between waking up and firing on all cylinders. A collection of sleep research from 1976 found that you experience more severe sleep inertia if you’re awakened abruptly.
The Right Alarm Sounds
So our alarm shouldn’t be jolting, but what sounds should we look for? Wellness expert Dr. Weil suggests gentle ones. Dr. Rebecca Robbins, a research fellow at the NYU School of Medicine’s Center for Health Behavior Change, told us that “pink noise or noise that emulates those in the environment, like rainfall or birds chirping” is best.
Armed with an earful of expertise, we’ve ranked 10 of the least terrible iPhone alarms from worst to best:
The most song-like of our list, Uplift is the audio embodiment of a sunrise.
This gentle piano riff is more soul than jazz club. You’re bound to wake up feeling groovy.
Though loud enough to rouse deep sleepers, Chimes isn’t too jolting. You’ll feel like you’re waking up in a Zen garden — until you realize you’re still in bed.
Though slightly high-pitched, Twinkle develops slowly. The long notes allow greater impact and a less abrupt wake-up.
6. Slow Rise
As its name suggests, Slow Rise is one of the more progressive iPhone tones. It starts off quiet and simple then builds to something more stimulating. In other words, it lulls you awake.
Hillside sounds like a woodpecker at work in the distance. That’s the closest we get to birds chirping on the iOS.
Gradual? Check. Calming? Check. Pink? Sure. Silk is the most pleasant middle ground there is.
What could be more natural than the sound of no one laughing at your friend’s stand-up routine? Crickets offers the most realistic nature sounds of the bunch.
Clearly the best option of the classic iPhone alarms, Harp gently ascends in both pitch and volume.
Thanks to a low frequency and long, gradual pattern, we’ve declared this water-themed alarm the winner.
Other Alarm Options
Depending on your preference, alternatives like light-based alarm clocks or vibrating watches could provide a better experience. Dr. Wilckens suggests trying these out to find the one you wake up to best.
Whatever you do, promise us you won’t wake up to the iPhone’s unironically named “Alarm.” It brings us back to childhood fire drills in the worst possible way.