Over at Extra Crispy HQ, the team recently found out that Ryan Grim, our site director, is one of those people who wakes up without an alarm. This is not something you can say without sounding incredibly smug, and so the revelation was met with a cascade of aggressively rolled eyes, some pointed words, and a discussion of the best way to wake up if you are, in fact, a real human who needs a little help getting out of bed in the morning. One of us blinks awake to the dulcet tones of NPR’s Morning Edition; one of us has a canine wake-up call; and one of us needs the most aggravating, annoying iPhone beep to launch her out of bed. But none of these morning tactics suit me. Instead, I’ve been waking up to music—usually a well-loved song—for years. As such, I’ve figured out exactly the right kind of music to wake up to. Well, the right song for me, anyway.
This was important to discover because, frankly, all the other options sound—often literally—worse. I need an alarm—I can’t wake up with the sun, as nice as that idea is, Ryan. I don’t have barking animals or screeching children to tell me when it’s time to get out of bed. Those built-in phone alarm songs are a really efficient way for me to get a headache. And waking up to voices, even ones on the radio, makes me wonder who has broken into my house. So I choose a song to ease into the morning with. It’ll remain the same for months, and then, one night, as I go to set my alarm for the morning, I’ll get the feeling that it’s time to change it up, and I do.
Here’s what I don’t want in a song to wake up to: I don’t want to wake up to weird, ambient sounds. I don’t want to wake up to heavy bass or clapping or a church organ. (Acoustic guitar’s generally good. So is piano.) It’s a little unsettling to be hit with a singing voice right off the bat, so I look for something with at least a 10-second instrumental introduction with a nice, steady beat. (This is not the time for long, mournful notes on a violin.) I don’t want to wake up to anything sad, but moody’s okay. I don’t want something too fast, lest I am startled awake instead of coaxed. In addition, I go for songs that I have no deep emotional connection to—which is to say I avoid songs that helped with a break up, or songs that I fell in love to, or songs that are so connected to a point in your life they’re basically a time machine. This is neutral-to-positive song territory. Don’t push it.
And here’s the thing: You will probably only hear the first 10 seconds of any given song in the morning before you hit your snooze button. You just need to find a sound that you don’t hate hearing as soon as you open your eyes—or rather, the first few times you open your eyes. (No one’s actually stopped hitting the snooze, right?) The only downside? Once I’ve had a song as my alarm, I can’t help but experience a fleeting, Pavlovian moment of panic—Where do I need to be? What did I miss?!—if I hear it out in the wild. It’s a small price to pay, I think, for a more pleasant way to wake up.
(And to make finding the alarm song of your, um, waking dreams easier, I made you a playlist.)