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Can Listening to Music Help You Sleep Better?

Ana Marie Schick Mar 09, 2023

Learn how music can help you sleep

Music is a powerful tool that can bring about emotions and movement. It can also be used to help you drift off to sleep and wake up feeling more energized and well-rested. With the help of streaming apps and portable speakers, it’s now easier than ever to include music as part of your nighttime routine, resulting in better sleep.

Today we explore the connection between music and sleep – more specifically, how and why it can improve both the quality and the amount of healthful sleep we get each night. Although much research links music to healthy sleep, we know that the two might not work together for everyone.

After reading this article, we hope you’ll have more knowledge to create your own special sleep recipe that meets your needs.

Music and Sleep Study

In a recent study, adults who listened to music for 45 minutes before bed reported having slept better, and their sleep quality improved on the first night. [1]

How Music Affects our Mood

You’ve likely had the experience of feeling energized and cheerful during one of your favorite songs. The rhythm itself gives you cause to smile. There is a scientific reason for this. Individuals who listened to music that could be classified as happy and upbeat were able to improve their mood and overall happiness in just a few weeks. [2]

The music itself can bring you to tears or take you back to earlier memories (good ones, we hope!).

Not only has music been used to help regulate mood, stress levels, arousal, and our overall psychological well-being. [3] Scientists continue to explore how this actually happens, and they've found that brain structures such as the hypothalamus and amygdala send signals to different glands. The pineal gland, for example, responds by releasing the sleep hormone melatonin. [4]

Music also may suppress the stress hormone cortisol. Too much of this substance causes us to be overly aroused and alert, ruining a night of restful and restorative zzzzz’s. [5]

Learn More: The structure and function of circadian rhythms.

The Autonomic Nervous System

Music has also been shown to affect the autonomic nervous system. This is the ‘auto-pilot’ part of our system that controls functions such as heartbeat, breathing, and digestion. Music has been shown to slow all these processes, allowing us to enter our necessary sleep stages. [6,7].

The Relaxation in Distraction

There’s much to be said about the value of simply taking your mind off the events of daytime craziness and that anticipatory stress that keeps us wide-eyed all night long.

There are some indications that when people listen to music, the distraction makes it easier to feel at ease. It can be helpful for people of all ages, including infants and children. [8]

Did You Know?

Listening to music can decrease cortisol levels, explaining why music can help release stress and put people at ease. [9]

According to music psychology researcher Thomas Dickson, Ph.D, listening to calming music can be a key component to a better night’s sleep. What it does, he says, is change what would normally be a stressful experience (that is, trying to get to sleep), into a more pleasant one, which induces a sleepier state. In addition, music masks distracting noises in the environment. [10]

Music has a solid evidence base as one of the better-researched non-pharmacological sleep aids that can improve individual’s sleep, both in terms of insomnia and the quality of sleep.”[paragraph 4] [11]

Thomas Dickson

Music Psychology Researcher, Ph.D

Music Helps Those with Specific Conditions

A meta-analysis and systematic review, which is a very detailed analysis of multiple studies, found that, for adults with insomnia, the music probably facilitates a large improvement in sleep quality compared to no treatment or treatment as usual.

There is also some improvement in sleep duration and the time it takes to fall asleep (sleep latency). [12]

Sleep Study: Listening to Music for Insomnia in Adults

Research has even explored the benefits of music in a medical intensive care unit. A randomized controlled trial of patients found considerable improvements in healthy sleep during several non-REM stages.

Also notable was a decrease in autonomic nervous system function, such as arterial pressure, heart rate, and respiration.[13]…just what the body is supposed to be doing at night!

Learn More: The Specific Stages of Sleep

Music and sleep

What Kind of Music Helps with Sleep?

Much research has been focused on the specific types of music that help improve our sleep. Just like certain types of music get us revved up for the big game and help us buckle down and study for a test, there is relaxing music to sleep to, ultimately helping us prepare for quality sleep. [14]

Soothing Music

This type of music typically doesn’t include vocals, including jazz, solo piano, instrumental, and classical. Research claims soothing music may improve sleep by slowing your breathing and heart rate and lowering your blood pressure. [15]\

Nature Sounds

In 2017, scientists from Brighton and Sussex Medical School found that people who listened to natural noises had an increase in the activity of their rest-digest nervous system, which is associated with calming effects. [16] Some sounds include rain, thunder, ocean waves, birds chirping, and more.

Prioritizing your mental well-being through meditation helps your body find and maintain relaxation easier.

Meditation Music

Music has been proven to be an effective sleep aid. Research has demonstrated that sleep meditation music can effectively decrease anxiety, enhance sleep quality, and induce relaxation. One study found that the use of sleep meditation music helped individuals with insomnia fall asleep quicker and sleep more deeply.[17]

What music research has found is that it’s not so much the genre of music that makes us relax, but certain characteristics of musical pieces.

Here’s what experts have learned about the characteristics of music that are most amenable to sleep. [18]

  • Music was 60 to 80 beats per minute (bpm) – considered relatively slow.
  • Frequency was in the middle range.
  • Notes were in the major mode (as opposed to minor, such as some jazz tunes).
  • The articulation was legato (smooth).
  • The tempo was medium.
  • Lyrics were present.

Admittedly, we were somewhat surprised about the presence of lyrics being considered musical attributes that improved sleep. However, this brings up the point of experimenting with musical selections that work best for you.

Additional Resource: One of the musical pieces mentioned in the above study - A River Flows in You, by Yiruma [19]

How to Make Music Part of Your Sleep Routine

The beauty of making music part of your sleep routine is that it can really be an enjoyable project. You can download our app, listen to relaxing soundscapes, browse YouTube videos to your heart’s content, or download music apps to develop your perfect bedtime playlist.

Below are a few guidelines to get you started:

Make it a Nightly Habit

Developing a consistent nightly routine can be extremely beneficial for getting a good night's sleep. Incorporate soothing and familiar music into your bedtime rituals in order to give your body the time it needs to relax and let go of the day's stresses.

Music Tip: Listen to your music for about 30 minutes before lying down.

Select the Right Type of Music:

It is not recommended to listen to music that evokes powerful feelings while trying to sleep; instead, opt for neutral or cheerful music. This includes smooth and flowing, without abrupt changes—music with a medium tempo, not too fast or too slow.

Play Enjoyable Songs

If the existing music you are listening to is not providing the desired calming effect, consider creating a personalized mix of songs. Tempo is important, as some people prefer slower-paced music while others find solace in faster tunes. Feel free to change your music choices anytime and find the best sound for your needs.

Music Tip: Select music with a relatively slow beat (60 to 80 bpm).

The most important thing to remember with the above suggestions is that there is no right answer to your music choices. We suggest that you think of this as an artistic endeavor…just like the amazing music you choose!

Pleasant Dreams!

Citations / Resources

[1] Lai, H.-L., & Good, M. (2005). Music improves sleep quality in older adults. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 49(3), 234–244. View Study

[2] How Does Music Affect Your Mood? | Music and Emotion Relationship. (2019, August 2). View Resource

[3] Chanda, M.L., Levtin, D.J. (2013). The neurochemistry of music. Trends in Cognitive Science. View Resource

[4] Ono, D., & Yamanaka, A. (2017). Hypothalamic regulation of the sleep/wake cycle. Neuroscience research, 118, 74–81. View Study

[5] Newsom, R. (2022, September 20). Music and Sleep [Video]. Sleep Foundation. View Resource

[6] Ibid.

[7] Su, C., Lai, H., Chang, E., Yiin, L., Perng, S.J., & Chen, P. (2013). A randomized controlled trial of the effects of listening to non-commercial music on quality of nocturnal sleep and relaxation indices in patients in medical intensive care unit. Journal of advanced nursing, 69 6, 1377-89. View Resource

[8] Brennen, D. (2021, September 24). Is it good to sleep with music on? Medicine Net View Resource

[9] Koelsch, S., Fuermetz, J., Sack, U., Bauer, K., Hohenadel, M., Wiegel, M., Kaisers, U. X., & Heinke, W. (2011). Effects of Music Listening on Cortisol Levels and Propofol Consumption during Spinal Anesthesia. Frontiers in psychology, 2, 58. View Study

[10] Knight, B. (2021, January 15). Study reveals the relaxing music to help you sleep. MedicalXPress. View Resource

[11] Ibid.

[12] Jespersen KV, Pando-Naude V, Koenig J, Jennum P, Vuust P. (2022). Listening to music for insomnia in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews - Issue 8. Art. No.: CD010459. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010459.pub3

[13] Su, C., Lai, H., Chang, E., Yiin, L., Perng, S.J., & Chen, P. (2013). A randomized controlled trial of the effects of listening to non-commercial music on quality of nocturnal sleep and relaxation indices in patients in medical intensive care unit. Journal of advanced nursing, 69 6, 1377-89. View Resource

[14] Newsom, R. (2022, September 20). Music and Sleep [Video]. Sleep Foundation. View Resource

[15] Ellis, R. J., & Thayer, J. F. (2010). Music and Autonomic Nervous System (Dys)function. Music perception, 27(4), 317–326. View Study

[16] University of Sussex. (2017). It’s true: The sound of nature helps us relax. Retrieved from ScienceDaily website: View Resource

[17] Trahan, T., Durrant, S. J., Müllensiefen, D., & Williamson, V. J. (2018). The music that helps people sleep and the reasons they believe it works: A mixed methods analysis of online survey reports. PloS one, 13(11), e0206531. View Study

[18] Dickson, G. T., & Schubert, E. (2022). Musical features that aid sleep. Musicae Scientiae, 26(3), 497–515. View Study

[19] Yiruma [YirumaVEVO]. (2012, February 10). River Flows in You [Video]. YouTube. Watch Video