An alarm clock is a clock that is designed to make a loud sound at a specific time. The primary use of these clocks is to awaken people from their sleep in order to start their days in the mornings, but can also be used for short naps; they are sometimes used for other reminders as well. To stop the sound, a button or handle on the clock needs to be pressed, and some stop automatically after a few minutes if left unattended. A classical analog alarm clock has an extra hand that is used to specify the time at which to activate the alarm.
Traditional mechanical alarm clocks have one or two bells that ring, but digital alarm clocks can make other noises. Simple battery-powered alarm clocks make a loud buzzing sound, or other similar noise to wake a sleeper, while novelty alarm clocks can speak, laugh, or sing. Some alarm clocks have radios that start playing at specified times, and are known as clock radios. A progressive alarm clock, still new in the market, can have different alarms for different times (see Next-Generation Alarms).
In a mechanical bell-style alarm clock, a mainspring drives a gear that propels a clacker back and forth between two bells or between the sides inside a single bell. In an electric bell-style alarm clock, the bell rings with an electromagnetic circuit and armature that turns the circuit on and off again repeatedly.
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato (428–348 BC) was said to possess a large water clock with an unspecified alarm signal similar to the sound of a water organ; he used it at night, possibly for signalling the beginning of his lectures at dawn (Athenaeus 4.174c). The Hellenistic engineer and inventor Ctesibius (fl. 285–222 BC) fitted his clepsydras with dial and pointer for indicating the time, and added elaborate "alarm systems, which could be made to drop pebbles on a gong, or blow trumpets (by forcing bell-jars down into water and taking the compressed air through a beating reed) at pre-set times" (Vitruv 11.11).
The late Roman senator Cassiodorus (c. 485–585) advocated in his rulebook for monastic life the water clock as a useful alarm for the 'soldiers of Christ' (Cassiod. Inst. 30.4 f.). The Christian rhetorician Procopius described in detail prior to 529 a complex public striking clock in his home town Gaza which featured an hourly gong and figures moving mechanically day and night.
In China, a striking clock was devised by the Buddhist monk and inventor Yi Xing (683–727).[4 ] The Chinese engineers Zhang Sixun and Su Song integrated striking clock mechanisms in astronomical clocks in the 10th and 11th centuries, respectively.[5 ] A striking clock outside of China was the water-powered clock tower near the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, which struck once every hour. It was constructed by the Arab engineer al-Kaysarani in 1154.
From the 14th century, some clock towers in Western Europe were also capable of chiming at a fixed time everyday, the earliest of which was described by the Florentine writer Dante Alighieri in 1319.[7 ] The most famous original striking clock tower still standing is possibly the one in St Mark's Clocktower in St Mark's Square, Venice. The St Mark's Clock was assembled in 1493, by the famous clockmaker Gian Carlo Rainieri from Reggio Emilia, where his father Gian Paolo Rainieri had already constructed another famous device in 1481. In 1497, Simone Campanato moulded the great bell (h. 1,56 m., diameter m. 1,27), which was put on the top of the tower where it's alternatively beaten by the Due Mori (Two Moors), two bronze statues (h. 2,60) handling a hammer.
User-settable mechanical alarm clocks date back at least to 15th-century Europe. These early alarm clocks had a ring of holes in the clock dial and were set by placing a pin in the appropriate hole. An alarm clock with a similar setting mechanism was designed by Taqi al-Din, of the Ottoman Empire, and described in his 1559 book The Brightest Stars for the Construction of Mechanical Clocks (Al-Kawākib al-durriyya fī wadh' al-bankāmat al-dawriyya).
Another mechanical alarm clock was created by Levi Hutchins, of New Hampshire in the United States, in 1787. This device he made only for himself however, and it only rang at 4 AM, in order to wake him for his job. The French inventor Antoine Redier was the first to patent an adjustable mechanical alarm clock, in 1847.
Alarm clocks, like almost all other consumer goods in the United States of America, ceased production in the spring of 1942, as the factories which made them were converted over to war work during World War II, but they were one of the first consumer items to resume manufacture for civilian use, in November 1944. By that time, a critical shortage of alarm clocks had developed due to older clocks wearing out or breaking down. Workers were late for, or missed completely, their scheduled shifts in jobs critical to the war effort because "my alarm clock is broken". In a pooling arrangement overseen by the Office of Price Administration, several clock companies were allowed to start producing new clocks, some of which were continuations of pre-war designs, and some of which were new designs, thus becoming among the first "postwar" consumer goods to be made, before the war had even ended. The first radio alarm clock was invented by James F. Reynolds, in the 1940s and another design was also invented by Paul L Schroth Sr. The price of these "emergency" clocks was, however, still strictly regulated by the Office of Price Administration.
Modern digital alarm clocks typically feature a radio alarm function and/or beeping or buzzing alarm, allowing a sleeper to awaken to music or news radio rather than harsh noise. Most also offer a "snooze button", a large button on the top that stops the alarm and sets it to ring again at a short time later, most commonly nine minutes. Some alarm clocks also have a "sleep" button, which turns the radio on for a set amount of time (usually around one hour). This is useful for people who like to fall asleep with the radio on.
Digital clock radios often use a battery backup to maintain the time in the event of a power outage. Without this feature, digital clocks will reset themselves incorrectly (usually to midnight) when power is restored, causing a failure to trigger the alarm. To solve this issue, some radio clocks (not to be confused with clocks with AM/FM radios) have a feature which sets the time automatically using radio signals, making the clock ready for use right out of the box.
Alarm clock software programs have been developed for personal computers. A computer acting as an alarm clock may allow a virtually unlimited number of alarm times and personalized tones.
Some modern cell phones feature built-in alarms that do not require the phone to be powered on for the alarm to go off. Some of these cell phones feature the ability for the user to set the tone of the alarm, music can be downloaded to the phone and then chosen to play for waking.
Among annoyances caused by alarm clocks is sleep inertia, a feeling of grogginess that results from abrupt awakening. Progressive alarm clocks claim to solve this issue. They include sunrise alarm clocks, dawn simulators and progressive auditory alarm clocks.
Some scientists believe that the human mind may develop a tendency to adapt to alarm sounds so that they no longer disturb sleep. This way, the alarm clock loses effectiveness. The next generation progressive alarm clock also claims to solve this issue.
Scientific studies on sleep having shown that sleep stage at awakening is an important factor in amplifying sleep inertia. Alarm clocks involving sleep stage monitoring appeared on the market in 2005. Using sensing technologies such as EEG electrodes or accelerometers, these alarm clocks are supposed to wake people only from light sleep.