The Anxiety of Alarm Clocks

As the semester goes on, the sleep deprivation grows more and more and it gets harder every day to wake up for those 8am classes.  The terrible sound of the alarm clock sounds, and somehow I get out of bed, running on a few hours of sleep and a cup of coffee.  I dread the sound of my alarm, but not only in the morning.  If I hear this tone go off in the middle of the day, I immediately feel anxious.  This sound makes me cringe at any time of the day.  In fact, every day I have my educational psychology class a watch alarm goes off that sounds exactly like my morning alarm clock, and instantly I feel a twinge of anxiety and lose all focus.  I began to think, maybe my brain is conditioned to feel this anxiety, associating the sound with having to wake up.  From this experience, I began to question the real reason why this sound brings along such anxiety with it.  My hypothesis is that our brains learn to associate this tone with anxiety after a long period of time of being paired together.  Along with this, I want to find out why this sound still gives me anxiety completely out of context in the middle of class.

In this study done by Philip C. Kendall at Temple University, he describes that classical conditioning, which is very common in psychology, is the reason for this anxiety.  Classical conditioning is a process believed by behaviorists that associates neutral stimuli with an unconditioned stimulus, and when this unconditioned stimulus is aversive, the neutral stimulus becomes unpleasant too.  In this article, it explains how a lot of anxiety is learned through classical conditioning as a child.  Since I have been using the same tone as my alarm clock since middle school, it makes sense that I would have learned to associate anxiety to this tone since waking up early causes me anxiety.  I am associating this sense of anxiety with the tone as well as with waking up early, and once it has been conditioned, this tone will cause anxiety in other environments.  This supports my hypothesis, but now I know how and why this works the way it does.

While researching this topic, I also found an interesting topic that could be a reason as to why the tone of an alarm clock gives me anxiety.  In this article in Psychology Today, it explains that since noise is a stimulus, it can cause people to react negatively to it, like any other stimulus.  It also explains that stimuli that can not be controlled can cause more stress than stimuli under our control because humans like to be in control of their surroundings.  Some people also have a stronger sensitivity to sound than others, and after reading this article, I have realized that I definitely fall into this category.  People who fall into this category are at a higher risk to be stressed by certain sounds, which can also add to the stress of the conditioning of the sound of an alarm clock, making this conditioned aversive stimuli even more likely to be stressful.

One way to try to avoid this classical conditioning of the sound of an alarm and anxiety is switching up the sound that you wake up to each morning so that you are not conditioning your mind to hate a certain sound.  This is also why people suggest that you don’t set your favorite song as your alarm in the morning because you will learn to hate it by associating it with the anxiety and stress of waking up in the morning.

Overall, my hypothesis was correct and the reason for being able to generalize this alarm clock sound over environments is due to classical conditioning.  Because my brain has paired this sound with the anxiety of waking up in the morning, I do not physically have to be waking up in the morning to feel this anxiety because the sound as well as the morning both now trigger the conditioned response of anxiety.  After learning about this, I think it is best to change the tone that you wake up to each morning fairly regularly so your body does not condition anxiety to a certain sound, and if you do not want to switch up your alarm all of the time, pick a sound that you will not hear regularly in your environment! That way you never have to feel the sudden panic that I feel as I hear the tone of my alarm coming from a watch in educational psychology every class at noon!!


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13 thoughts on “The Anxiety of Alarm Clocks

  1. Taryn S Linker

    I totally understand how you feel! I can’t listen to the sound of my alarm clock from high school without my stomach turning. After waking me up for four years with its annoying, blaring sound, I feel disturbed when exposed to it now. Once I came to college, I figured that if I switched it up and changed the ringtone for every couple of minutes it would help. I thought wrong. Now, I hated not only one of my ringtones, but every one I set. After purchasing the Fitbit, I found an alternative way to wake me up in the morning. Setting an alarm on the bracelet creates a vibrating sensation on my arm. This almost always wakes me up and doesn’t annoy me with it’s recurring beeping. Here is an article that talks about the benefits of using a Fitbit as an alarm clock.

  2. Darby Marie Showers

    This most is so relevant as a college student! I always try to switch up the sound of my alarm, trying to find the best way to wake myself up as naturally as possible. Unfortunately, I have been unable to do this. I also found that if I even hear something relatively similar to my alarm, when I am out somewhere, I instinctively flinch. In saying that, I agree with your findings, but I wish there was more research on the subject!

  3. Maura Katherine Maguire

    Really great post! So relatable and really describes our “alarm clock phobia.” Whenever I hear the classic Apple alarm clock tone I jump a bit inside. The sound of your alarm clock is possibly the worst sound in the world but unfortunately there is no getting away from it. No matter how many times I change the tone I cringe any time a certain sound wakes me up.

  4. Victor William Gregory

    Hey Jessica! I loved this blog. I found it very relatable. I used to have my alarm set to one specific song, and just like you said in your blog you grow to hate it. I’ve begun to change the song every night before I go to sleep that way I don’t just sleep through my alarm as I have become so accustomed to doing in the past. My roommates however has used the same song to wake up everyday since we got up here…..” Turn Down for What.” See the thing is he sleeps through it every morning. He wakes up from it about every other day. Because of this I have grown to loath that song. However, I wake up every time i hear it now. So why? Why is it that under certain conditions the memory of a song or sound has a string affect on us? Is it because of the way we were raised? or Could it be genetic? Its fascinating that what works for me may not necessarily work for you. I think this is a really compelling topic that can and should be further discussed. Let’s take it a step further and ask why do we feel differently when we wake up on our own vs with an alarm clock or by someone else.

  5. Monica Lynn Powell

    Yes!! I totally agree with this! You explained the mechanism really well. My friend programmed out alarm one summer as a Maroon 5 song and ever since then, which it’s been 2 or 3 years, I can’t stand to listen to that song because it just reminds me of having to wake up. I wonder if there is a type of alarm that is best to wake up to? Is it a beeping or maybe the radio or just a song? Here’s an article giving some helpful tips as to how to better wake up, with several alarm clock ideas.

  6. Dominic DeCinque

    Jess, I completely agree with your hypothesis. In high school, I woke up to the radio every day, so there was never one distinct sound that made me ridiculously anxious. But now I use my phone alarm every morning, and the familiar tone freaks me out when I hear it at other random times throughout the day. This article describes the unhealthiness associated with alarm clocks, and even offers some alternatives to using the same sound every morning. Check it out if you have time!

  7. Raegan S Pechar

    I can completely relate to your alarm clock anxiety, mine even goes as far as I have nightmares about waking up to my alarm clock, or when I’m sleeping, I’m anticipating the moment my alarm goes off! In studies I’ve found for various other topics, they show that classical conditioning is a common culprit in psychology. It is how your body naturally adapts to something over time and how your brain associates itself with things. They’ve done tests where they condition a child to fear a rat, to see if fear can be taught (it can). Every so often I will change the sound of my alarm clock, and I usually tend to choose one that doesn’t frighten me when I wake up. The WORST feeling is waking up in the morning in a state of panic, so I really feel for the people that choose the loud and annoying alarms because they are deep sleepers.

  8. Colleen Bridget Mcshea

    I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only one that gets totally stressed out when I someone gets a phone call or reminder that plays the same tone as my alarm clock. In fact, just a couple days ago I was out to eat with a friend and heard the tone from someone else’s phone and immediately said, “ugh, ew, that’s the sound of my alarm clock.” Totally annoyed me right away!

    Aside from just the alarm clock tone, I am also super sensitive to loud noise in general. When someone turns the radio all the way up in the car or when someone is repeatedly making a loud noise for several minutes, I tend to get really agitated really quickly. I wish I wasn’t like this!

    Here is a real example of other people that feel the same pain we do with this problem.

  9. Tyler Olson

    I like the science in this post. I will definitely be changing my alarm clock tone tonight. This runs parallel to clicker training for dogs where dogs learn to associate a clicker sound with getting a treat, a tool which trainers use to manipulate the dogs behavior. Here’s an explainer for that process here:

    Additionally, as a golfer, this can also explain why I find the sound of a ball rattling around in the bottom of the plastic cup so aesthetically pleasing, not because it is intrinsically a good sound, but because I associate it with successfully making a putt.

  10. cmt5658

    There is nothing I hate more in the world than the sound of my alarm clock. I have had to stop listening to many songs because I thought it was a good idea for me to wake up to them. The classical conditioning made a lot of sense, because just like in Pavlov’s original dog experiment, the sound of the bell automatically lead to drooling, without having a direct relationship. This article ( describers and interesting study on how the sound or tune you pick for an alarm sets your mood for the rest of the day. If you ever want to further this research, I think that would be something really interesting to focus on, and trying to find the perfect tune for the the perfect day.

  11. Michael Gerard Shevlin

    I certainly can relate to this as I’ve used the same alarm sound for the past 2 years. Whenever I hear the sound while I’m awake, not only does it scare the hell out of me, but it also gives me anxiety. I used to use my favorite songs to wake me up in morning, but I soon realized that I began to hate these songs as I associated them with anxiety and waking up. While I hate the sound of my alarm, it does a great job at getting me out of bed as opposed to other sounds that I’m not used to.

  12. Melanie Dawn Weltner

    This topic is really cool because I think it is something most, if not all of us can relate to. The organization of your post was well constructed and kept my interest! From personal experience, I think the anxiety of your alarm clock all comes down to the ringtone that you use. For instance, when I was a pre-teen my ringtone to wake me up in the morning was “Soulja Boy Tell’em- Crank That.” Needless to say the second the alarm blared in my ear, I sprung up everyday in a cold sweat and my heart racing. Ever since then I have changed my ringtone to something more calming and not as abrupt, so instead of waking up on the edge of a heart attack, I now wake up slowly and naturally. Here is an article I found talking about the tune for your ringtone and what effects it may have. Even though this topic is not highly researched, it still is an interesting question to pose.

    1. Olivia Helen DeArment

      I can completely relate to this post, as I am sure most of us can. One of the most dreaded feelings in the world in hearing the never ending sound blaring in your ear to start the day. I used to experiment with the kind of alarms I used. I tried the annoying repetitive beeping noise to force me to get up in the morning to stop the aching headache the sound would cause. I jumped off that train really quick once I could not take the sound of a fire alarm every single morning, so I tried to make it songs that I enjoyed. Turns out I just instantly started hating the songs since I always correlated it with having to wake up! I guess there really is no right answer for this one, but I agree with your findings! Do you believe that it depends on the sounds that wake you up with the anxiety contributed with it?

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