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437: Morning Alarm

What kind of sound do you use for a morning alarm?

Full episode script

Around 1555 or so, one of the first recorded modern “alarm clock” style clocks was designed to sound a noise at a particular time — and they were developed around the same time several areas of the world.

It was a fairly basic problem that humanity had been taking care of for different ways for a very long time. Morning alarms – if they took the form of religious calls to prayer, the brightness of the sunrise, one’s own bladder telling you it was time to get out of bed, or a water clock — were all intended to rouse one from sleep.

There was even once a profession called the “knocker up” whose entire job was to pound on the window or wall of a house at an appointed hour, sometimes with a long pole to reach the second floor, until they were sure the residents were awake.

Today, the vast majority of first-world alarm clocks are actually not clocks at all — they are smartphone apps. And in addition to being able to choose just about anything you want as the noise to rouse you out of sleep, there’s a cottage industry in apps intended to wake you up with something other than a jolt. Pillow, Bonjour, Sleep Genius, and dozens of others all promise a more gentle wake-up experience.

There might – maybe – be something behind that. There’s some research that says a jolting alarm may start your morning with a dose of adrenaline, which could have some serious negative impacts, especially if you’re already stressed. Monday mornings within the first 3 hours of waking up is when many heart attacks happen, and there is one — as of yet unproven theory — that the two things are correlated.

Then again, some of the most gentle wake-up apps report that one of the most requested features from users are to make the app noise louder. So perhaps it doesn’t have so much to do with the noise we choose as the general state of sleep deprivation.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.