Can Music Help You Sleep?

Music has always possessed the ability to soothe and relax, as well as inspire and entertain. For anyone with sleep problems, listening to their favorite songs could help them get to sleep quicker and stay asleep longer.

This is not a new concept, as we sing lullabies to help our children fall asleep. However, research indicates the benefits music could hold for people with sleep problems and disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia.

One study found that a group of adults who listened to music for 45 minutes prior to bed reported improved quality of sleep from the first night. Indeed, listening to your favorite songs seems to have a ‘cumulative dose effect’, where the sleep benefits keep on improving over time.

Listening to a prepared track list can also improve how quickly you fall asleep as well as the efficiency of your sleep. 

One study involved a group of women who were displaying symptoms of insomnia. They played an album they personally selected when they went to bed for 10 consecutive nights. The time it took them to fall asleep improved, as they fell asleep within 6 to 13 minutes, instead of 27 to 69 minutes.

How Does It Actually Affect Sleep?

Music helps to relax you, the primary reason why your favorite tracks help you sleep better. 

Stress and anxiety can cause sleep issues like insomnia, which becomes a vicious circle -- as you worry about not being able to sleep when you go to bed. 

Your favorite songs can soothe your autonomous nervous system, helping to calm you and take your mind off your stress. 

Relaxing songs may also have a physiological effect on the body, impacting on the levels of certain hormones. 

Listening to a soothing track list at night can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, reducing anxiety levels and your overall alertness to help improve the quality of your sleep. 

It may also increase the levels of oxytocin, a hormone linked to positive feelings, which could again make you feel soothed and more relaxed at night.

Another hormone which is released through listening to your favorite tracks is dopamine. This is a hormone associated with pleasurable activities such as exercise and sex, the overall effect being to make you feel good and positive when you go to bed. 

A boost of dopamine may also quash pain to some extent, helping you sleep better, as pain is another contributing factor to sleep problems.

One further basic way putting on your preferred night time tracks may help you sleep is by covering up any external noise. This can be particularly handy if you live in a neighborhood where noise at night can be a problem, although you may need to use headphones. 

Just be a little careful using headphones or ear buds, as they can cause a buildup of ear wax or harm the ear canal when you fall asleep with the volume on loud. 

What Type of Music Is Best for Sleep?

There is not a “one size fits all” solution here, as everyone will have their favorite songs to help them fall asleep. Playlists that are most likely to be effective are ones you personally find relaxing. 

Studies indicate that songs which have between 60 to 80 beats per minute could work best, as your heartbeat is similar and the body may gradually sync up with the song.

While up-tempo songs may not seem ideal to help you relax and switch off, they could work for some people. 

You want to create a track list that works for you, preferably one which lasts around 45 minutes -- to ensure you have fallen asleep by the time it finishes. 

Instrumental songs are also likely to be best as they stop your focus on lyrics. And certainly, avoid any personally significant songs which are likely to produce an emotional response.

Online music services are helpful if you are unable to create your own playlist; you could find playlists designed around relaxation and sleep. 

Classical music tends to top the list of genres people use to help them sleep. But once again, this is a personal preference and it may take a little while experimenting before you find the playlist which has you becalmed and dropping off to sleep.

Tips For Music At Bedtime

The following are a few tips on how you might use music to improve your sleep:

  • Create an enjoyable playlist, one that works for you. Play with the track list until you find what works best for you.
  • Seek out progressive tracks, ones which start at a slow tempo, but get slower as the song progresses. Some people can find this progression makes the brain follow the same path, relaxing them and allowing them to fall asleep quicker.
  • Make listening to your night time playlist part of your daily bedtime routine. Research indicates that there can be a cumulative benefit to listening to your preferred songs when you go to bed, with sleep quality improving over time.
  • Keep the sleep playlist purely for that purpose and exclude it from other times of the day. You are looking for your brain to associate the sounds of this particular playlist with relaxation and sleep.
  • If you use a phone or tablet to listen to your playlist, turn the screen off to avoid it emitting blue light which could hinder sleep. Similarly, if you use a stereo or speaker, look for one without any bright lights.

Listening to your favorite songs can help improve your sleep, allowing you to get the vital restorative rest your body needs. However, if you're having trouble sleeping and music doesn't help, speak to your doctor. 

It's important to get sleep problems resolved, so your health doesn't suffer. If you snore, mention it to your doctor, as that's a symptom of sleep apnea, a medical condition that is very treatable.