The Effects of Music on Sleep

Sleep difficulties can affect our overall physical and mental health. Disorders such as insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea are common, while stress is also a big factor why people may struggle to get a good night’s sleep. 

However, music has long been thought to have a positive impact on sleep, having the power to calm and send us to a better place mentally. For people who suffer from a sleep disorder or who struggle to fall and stay asleep, this may provide a non-pharmacological solution.

The Impact on Sleep

Just as we may listen to songs as a motivational tool to get the blood pumping, it can also be used to relax and calm us down. From the earliest age, parents sing lullabies to their children to help them fall asleep. Yet adults can also reap the benefits from the right songs at the right time. Studies consistently report people who listen to music before bedtime will fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.

The reason for this is the affect it seems to have on our hormones. It can trigger an increase in sleep-friendly hormones like serotonin. It can also decrease the stress hormone cortisol, helping us to relax and switch off from life’s daily aggravations, a huge boon in helping you fall asleep. Dopamine is another hormone which can increase when we listen to the right songs and is associated with positive feelings and pain relief. 

One study involved women who displayed symptoms of insomnia. These women used a playlist for ten straight nights, a playlist that they had selected themselves. Listening to this playlist before bed reduced the time it took to fall asleep to between 6 to 13 minutes, instead of up to 69 minutes.

The Benefits On Your Evening Routine

As well as improving the time taken to fall asleep, listening to a personal playlist can improve sleep efficiency. This means you spend more time asleep when in bed, resulting in more consistent rest and a reduction in the risk of sleep deprivation and the health issues this can bring. There are several benefits from listening to music as part of an evening routine:


Stress and anxiety are prime causes of sleeping problems and disorders. Most of us will have experienced going to bed and lying awake worrying about a problem. However, not only can stress cause poor sleep, but the resulting lack of rest can also lead to more stress in a debilitating vicious circle.

Listening to our favorite songs has been shown to reduce our stress levels. It can decrease the levels of the hormone cortisol which otherwise may cause poor sleep. It can also help soothe our autonomic nervous system, leading to slower breathing, a lower heart rate, and reduced blood pressure.

Feel Good Factor

By releasing more dopamine, listening to our favorite tunes before bed helps put us in a better mood. This is important as it has a similar impact on reducing stress levels. If you are feeling happier and more positive when you go to bed, you are more likely to relax and fall asleep quicker.

Reduces Pain

Music seems to be able to act as a form of pain relief for some people. It is still unclear exactly how this works, but it seems to stimulate the immune system, as well as hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. It could also be that listening to your favorite songs helps distract the mind from the pain, and as pain is another major barrier to sleeping it has the additional benefit of helping you get a better night’s sleep.

Improved Evening Mindset

A further benefit of having a pleasurable activity to distract the mind is it can change your mindset for the good. People with poor sleeping patterns or with a disorder like obstructive sleep apnea can be anxious about the bedroom. 

After too many sleepless nights, the bedroom will become associated with poor rest, and the negative feelings attached further compound the anxiety. However, a playlist of your choosing which helps you fall asleep can change this mindset by making the bedroom a more pleasurable prospect again.

Noise Reduction

If you live in an area where external noises can be a contributing factor to problems sleeping, then background music in the bedroom can help remove this barrier.

Develop an Evening Routine

Routine can be good for encouraging better sleeping patterns. This can include going to bed and getting up the next morning at the same time each day, as well as avoiding screens prior to bed. Adding music to this evening routine can be equally beneficial. Stay consistent, as research shows that the benefits improve over time. 

It is important to incorporate this as part of a good overall sleeping environment, which includes a comfortable temperature in which to fall asleep and a darkened room. You will also want to ensure any speakers you use do not emit blue light that could negatively affect your falling asleep.

Will Any Playlist Do?

We are all individuals, with individual tastes. You will more likely benefit from using a personalized playlist, which may take a little amending before you arrive at the one which best works for you. Some tips include:

  • Opt for slower paced songs. Those with 60-80 beats per minute can see your heart rate drop to match the rate, subsequently slowing your breathing too
  • Avoid any songs which have a personal meaning which could cause emotional triggers
  • Classical or orchestral music without lyrics can be the better option
  • Avoid earbuds as this could result in ear damage as well as increase the risk of infections when slept upon.

Ultimately you will find a mix of songs which are not only enjoyable but induce a sleeping state. Whichever songs put you in a relaxed state of mind are the best ones to use. It may not happen overnight but, finding the right evening playlist could offer a non-pharmacological solution to your sleeping problems.