Relying on This Type of Alarm Clock Could Increase Blood Pressure, Says New Research

Updated: Jan. 12, 2024

It's called the "morning blood pressure surge," which non-early birds might not find shocking. Here's how science suggests you can make a tweak for a healthier rise-and-shine.

We’d all love to roll out of bed to the sound of birds chirping and a few minutes of peaceful meditation, but responsibilities like children, pets, and work often make that challenge a dream. If you begin your day on the move, particularly with one type of popular alarm clock, new research says you might want to make a simple tweak to your routine…and possibly your phone settings.

A new study has found that your phone’s alarm clock function could potentially increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Blood pressure naturally lowers during sleep and then peaks in the morning, a phenomenon called the “morning blood pressure surge.” A previous study by the American Heart Association found that several studies have linked an exaggerated morning blood pressure spike with cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke. Several factors can impact that morning surge, including a shorter duration of sleep, age, general blood pressure status, stress, day of the week, season, and certain lifestyle choices like smoking and drinking.

The circumstances of your wakeup routine may also play a role. The University of Virginia has shared the results of research by Yeonsu Kim, a doctoral candidate at the UVA School of Nursing, who enlisted 32 participants for a two-day experiment using smartwatches and finger blood pressure cuffs to test the effects of waking up naturally versus using a smartphone alarm clock. The first night, participants woke up when their body naturally wanted to, and the second night they were awakened by the phone alarm after five hours of sleep.

What Kim found was “evidence of a link between short sleep duration, forced awakening and morning blood pressure surge,” according to the UVA School of Nursing’s news siteForced awakening with the alarm clock had a 74% greater morning blood pressure surge than waking up naturally. The 2.38 mmHg variance between the two groups was “a small difference,” Kim told Newsweek, but a UVA press release explains the impact this can potentially have on the heart: “When morning blood pressure surge is excessive, it can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which produces the ‘fight or flight’ response, which places stress on the heart, which pumps harder and stronger.”

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The fix

Unfortunately we don’t live in a world of weekends, making a disciplined wakeup time necessary for many of us. So here’s a possible solution, based on a 2019 study by researchers from the School of Integrated Technology in South Korea: Instead of using one of the harsh-sounding alarm sounds from your phone’s default settings, try some music or even make a wakeup playlist that starts the day on an optimistic foot. The study found that upbeat music was the most useful for getting moving with some energy, and melodies may help fight grogginess that can place added stress on the heart throughout the day.