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Arousal from Sleep by Emergency Alarms: Implications from the Scientific Literature. Final Report.



V J. Pezoldt, H P. Van cott


A review of the sleep research and other scientific literature pertaining to the arousal of sleeping individuals by external stimuli is reported. This effort was undertaken to provide information about the characteristics of emergency alarms which will reliably awaken a sleeping population, especially nursing home residents, in the event of fire. The literature reviewed does not provide an adequate basis for specifying signal characteristics which will offer a high assurance of producing arousal. Among the factors that influence the intensity of a signal which will produce arousal are the age and physical/mental condition of the sleeper, drug use, sleep stage, time of night, and meaningfulness or personal significance of the signal. Data relevant to these variables are discussed as is the problem of performance following abrupt arousal. Recommendations regarding stimulus characteristics, measures of arousal and the experimental environment for future studies of arousal by emergency alarms are presented.
NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR) -


alarm responses, fire alarms, sleep, warning systems, systems engineering, safety devices, human behavior


Pezoldt, V. and Van, H. (1978), Arousal from Sleep by Emergency Alarms: Implications from the Scientific Literature. Final Report., NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed June 19, 2024)


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Created June 1, 1978, Updated February 19, 2017