Sleep and Music

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Sleep sounds have been helping people fall asleep for years. It turns out music can help us sleep, too. Over 60% of people (1) listen to music to help themselves fall asleep.

We explain how music can help you sleep, the best types of music for sleep, and tips for adding music to your sleep routine.

Does Music Help You Sleep?

Studies have found that music can improve the sleep quality (2) of people with chronic or short-term sleep problems. Listening to music can help people fall asleep faster, wake up less often during the night, and feel better about their sleep overall (3).

Music can promote sleep at any age. As babies, our parents’ lullabies help us sleep (4). As we grow older, music can help relieve the sleep problems common to old age (5). For example, in one study, older adults who listened to calming music for 45 minutes at bedtime reported significantly better sleep quality, fell asleep faster, slept longer, and reported fewer sleep disturbances.

Music has what researchers call a cumulative dose effect, meaning that the participants’ sleep continued to improve over time, as long as they kept listening to music at bedtime. That said, you do not have to wait very long to enjoy the benefits of music for sleep. One study found that music can improve sleep quality within three weeks (6).

How Music Affects Sleep

Listening to music likely improves sleep for more than one reason. For example, music can reduce stress and pain, both of which interfere with sleep. It may also promote sleep directly, by affecting your physiology. Music impacts your sympathetic nervous system and hormone production. Listening to music can lower levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, while increasing oxytocin, a hormone associated with positive feelings. Many people use music to help themselves feel better and distract themselves from negative or stressful thoughts.

Music can also promote sleep by becoming a healthy bedtime habit. Many people who struggle with insomnia do so because stressful and worrisome thoughts keep them up at night. This stress wakes the body up, delaying sleep. By listening to music, the mind has something else to focus on. With time, the consistent practice of listening to music at bedtime becomes more effective as the brain positively associates music and sleep.

Best Music For Sleep

Certain types of music are better for sleep than others. Specifically, researchers have found that songs with these qualities promote sleep:

  • Slow tempo of 60 to 80 beats per minute
  • Low volume
  • Minor or slow changes
  • Smooth-sounding

Longer songs or playlists may also be helpful, since they give the body more time to relax into sleep.

Most importantly, you need to find the music relaxing. What relaxing music sounds like can vary from person to person. Researchers have found that there is a wide variety in the musical genres people listen to at bedtime. While classical music tops the charts — composer Johann Sebastian Bach was the most-listened to artist in one study — other common choices range from ambient artists, like Brian Eno, to pop stars, like Ed Sheeran and Coldplay.

If you are not sure where to start, consider listening to “Weightless” by Marconi Union. The British Academy of Sound Therapy commissioned it, and the song has been called the world’s most relaxing song. A study funded by the organization found the song effectively reduced stress and anxiety, even more than a massage (7). In another study, the song reduced anxiety in people prior to surgery (8).

Incorporating Music Into Your Sleep Routine

When added to a bedtime routine, music can help you relax into sleep. Try the following tips to incorporate it into your routine.

Create a Music Playlist

Multiple studies have shown that listening to music for 45 minutes can increase the amount of time spent in deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. To enjoy these benefits, put together a bedtime music playlist that is around 45 minutes in length. Opt for instrumental music, so you do not get distracted by the lyrics. Also, look for progressive tracks that start slow, and slow down even further. This may help your brain follow suit.

Make It a Routine

Consistently listening to music at bedtime helps make it a habit. Studies show that regular listening may be more effective at improving sleep quality.

Also, only listen to your sleep music when you are trying to fall asleep. Like following a bedtime routine, the goal is to help your brain associate the music solely with relaxation and sleep, not other activities.

Keep Your Bedroom Quiet and Dark

While music can help you sleep, unwelcome noise can disturb your sleep (9), even if you do not fully wake up. It helps to make your bedroom as quiet as possible. If you live somewhere noisy, consider wearing headphones to listen to your music.

We also need darkness to sleep well. Avoid using your TV or computer to play music, as the blue light emanating from the screen (10) can keep you awake. It is okay to use a smartphone or other device with a screen as long as the music can play while the screen stays dark.

It can take some time to find the right music, volume, and duration to best soothe you to sleep. If your sleep problems persist, talk to your doctor.

References

+ 10 Sources
  1. 1. Accessed on September 17, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30427881/
  2. 2. Accessed on September 17, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23582682/
  3. 3. Accessed on September 17, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12581941/
  4. 4. Accessed on September 17, 2021.https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1146386
  5. 5. Accessed on September 17, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15660547/
  6. 6. Accessed on September 17, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32849025/
  7. 7. Accessed on September 17, 2021.https://www.britishacademyofsoundtherapy.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Mindlab-Report-Weightless-Radox-Spa.pdf
  8. 8. Accessed on September 22, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31320504/
  9. 9. Accessed on September 17, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23257581/
  10. 10. Accessed on September 17, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26900325/

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