Despite your best efforts, everyone experiences poor sleep every once and awhile. Even if you haven’t changed your sleep routine or don’t feel overly stressed, you may run into bouts of interrupted sleep. If you’re having problems initiating sleep or relaxing at night, you may want to try music therapy.
Research shows that you can use music to fall asleep, reduce stress, and even boost your immune system. It can help calm the central nervous system to make you feel relaxed. Some people use it while they meditate or while laying in bed. Not all types of music will help cure your insomnia. Here’s the best music to fall asleep to.
If you’ve run into trouble sleeping, stress or anxiety might be to blame. Stressful thoughts can do terrible things to the body. They can impact your immune system so that you’re less able to fight off diseases and they can keep you awake at night. According to one survey, approximately 43 percent of people claim that stress causes them to lose sleep, which makes them feel lazy and sluggish the next day (1). Stress also affects the quality of any sleep you manage to get. The same survey found that 42 percent of people reported getting poor or fair sleep when they were stressed (1).
A 2014 systematic review of 36 studies regarding sleep and stress found that psychological stress impacts polysomnographic sleep on many levels. The studies found that stress reduces slow wave deep sleep, sleep efficiency and REM sleep. It also increases the number of times you wake up in the night. Data showed that people with post-traumatic stress disorder were especially prone to sleep disturbances (2).
Your daily life is stressful enough to keep you awake at night. According to one study, workers who worried about going to their job the next morning had decreased slow wave sleep, which is the most restorative form (3). Another study showed that when compared to students, shift workers had more emotional stress that caused them to lose sleep (4). The relationship between work stress and lack of sleep was demonstrated in another study that proved workers got more sleep the night before a day off (5). The study also found that employees were more likely to have sleep arousals the day before work, which caused them to have a higher burnout score (5).
Even driving a car for long distances can be stressful enough to affect your sleep. One study found that the mental tasks associated with operating a vehicle for 600 km altered the sleep cycle of participants (6). Other research indicated that there is a delicate balance between sleep, stress, and mood. One study found that people who only got 4.5 hours of sleep each night for one week reportedly felt sadder, angrier, more stressed and mentally exhausted. Luckily, all of these symptoms disappeared when the subjects were allowed to return to normal sleep (7).
Listening to music can pump you up before a workout and help you run that extra mile. It can enhance the excitement of your favorite drama movie and even make your commute to work a little bit easier. But can music help you sleep? Research says yes.
According to a 2008 study, music therapy can improve the sleep habits of students. The study investigated whether 94 students between the ages of 19 and 28 with sleeping problems benefited from listening to relaxing music for 45 minutes or an audio book at night for three weeks. Results showed that the sleep quality did not improve in students who listened to an audiobook or did nothing at all. But the depressive symptoms and insomnia significantly decreased in those who listened to classical music. The authors of the study concluded that classical music could be used to reduce sleep problems as well as depression. The authors suggested that nurses use this cheap and easy form of treatment with their insomnia patients (8).
Another study showed that adults with sleep disorders might benefit from listening to music at night. The study found that the best advantage of using music to treat insomnia was that it had no side effects. The primary results of the study found that patients with insomnia improved their sleep quality with music. They also reduced the length of time it took them to fall asleep and the number of times they woke up in the night (9).
Most prescription sleep medications are not safe when used long-term. Listening to music at night might be the only long term treatment for insomnia that is approved by most health experts. Studies show that music may help people with short-term and chronic insomnia alike (11). On the other hand, prescription sleep aids are linked to many unwanted side effects, including cancer and an increased risk of premature death.
Listening to music throughout the day even when you’re not trying to sleep may be able to reduce the stress that keeps you awake at night. According to a 2013 study, listening to music significantly reduced the cortisol response in people who were stressed. Participants who listened to music before being exposed to a stressor had a faster recovery of the autonomic nervous system. It also reduced their psychological and endocrine stress systems (12). The results of this study suggest that listening to music during the day when you’re exposed to stressful events may decrease your overall stress levels, which can help you sleep better at night.
Music As Medicine
According to the American Psychological Association, music can be used as medicine to treat symptoms in patients with Parkinson’s disease and depression (13). It’s even safe enough to use on children. One study found that sounds such as soothing music and lullabies soothed pre-term babies and improved their sleeping habits. The study involved 272 premature babies who were exposed to one of three types of music: a disc that contained ocean sounds, a lullaby sung by the child’s parents, and a sound that mimicked that of the womb to simulate a heartbeat.
Results of the study found that the ocean sounds increased the baby’s sleep quality while the singing of the lullaby reduced the baby’s heart rate (13). Researchers concluded that there is something special about live music that soothes depression symptoms, promotes recovery and enhances the quality of life.
Music can also be used to reduce stress and treat chronic pain conditions, which is a common cause of insomnia. Research shows that music therapy can serve as an outlet for emotions. It can also be used to treat physical ailments. One study even found that listening to music can boost the immune system by increasing the production of protective antibodies that fight diseases. Music also alleviates stress by reducing the cortisol response, which is the body’s primary stress hormone. The same study determined that music was better than prescription drugs at treating pre-anxiety surgery (13).
A 2013 study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that music helped soothe patients in the pediatric emergency room. The trial involved 42 children between the ages of 3 and 11. Results indicated that the children who listened to soothing music while also being hooked up to an IV at the same time reported feeling less pain and exhibited less distress than children who did not receive music therapy. Additionally, the health care workers indicated that the children who received the music treatment were more cooperative while being treated with an IV (13).
According to Doctor Lisa Hartling, a pediatric professor at the University of Alberta, there is a growing amount of research to indicate that music has a very particular impact on the brain. She recommended playing music for children during painful procedures as a straightforward and efficient intervention. Music can also help adult patients. Another study found that patients who were given live music therapy sessions had reduced pain when they participated in singing, playing an instrument, and writing lyrics to songs (13). Authors of the study noted that when the patients were relieved of their acute pain symptoms, they were able to rest more efficiently.
Research shows that music therapy has the following benefits (14):
- Brings security and order to children who are distressed and disabled.
- Encourages communication and coordination in disabled children and adults to improve their quality of life.
- Reduces stress and anxiety associated with hospital visits before and after surgical procedures.
- Reduces depressive symptoms and encourages self-esteem in the elderly population.
- Reduces painful sensations and alleviates the distress caused by postoperative and chronic pain.
- Music has been shown to improve mood and reduce burnout in nursing students.
- Enhances the quality of life and reduces emotional distress in adults with cancer.
The best music to fall asleep to may vary from person to person, but classical music is by far the best for relaxation. According to Doctor Michael Breus, author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, music can help you sleep, but the kind of music you listen to is important. He stated that music with a relatively slow beat might help you relax, but listening to heavy rock music may have the opposite effect (10). Studies show that classical music, jazz, and music without words are the best at reducing stress.
Research shows that people who listen to music with a tempo tune of approximately 60 beats a minute fall asleep faster. According to Doctor Breus, when you fall asleep, your heart rate slows down and starts to move to the rhythm of the beat. When you listen to slow music, your heart beats slower, as it would in a normal sleep cycle (10). But when you listen to upbeat music, your heart rate increases, making it harder to fall asleep.
If you’re not a fan of classical music, you’ll be happy to know that the song “Weightless” by the Marconi Union is considered the most relaxing song ever created as it has 60 beats per minute (10). Other relaxing songs include the “Blue Room Hotel” by Joni Mitchell and “Blue in Green” by Miles Davis. Many relaxing songs contain no words at all. It might be a wise decision to stay away from any songs that make you feel emotional as this may cause additional stress right before bed.
Avoid wearing earbuds or headphones to sleep as this may impact your ear canals if you roll over. Instead, invest in a set of pillow speakers, which are designed to sit either under your pillow or directly in them to play soothing music. They can easily be controlled with the touch of a button and turned off after you fall asleep. Many of them plug into the wall so that you won’t have to be exposed to light, which can alter your melatonin levels and keep you awake.
Here are some other useful tips for practicing music therapy:
- Listen to music during the day while at work if your job allows it to reduce stress associated with your performance levels.
- In place of watching television at night after dinner, turn on the radio and listen to jazz or classical music.
- Turn on children’s music to calm them down while bathing them or getting them ready for bed.
- In addition to listening to music, write out song lyrics that make you feel relaxed. Avoid writing about overly emotional things before bed. Instead, focus on nature, such as the sunset or the moon.
- Sip chamomile tea or diffuse lavender essential oil into the air while listening to music before going to sleep.
- Listen to calming music while taking a warm bath. Dim the lights, so you start to feel sleepy.
By being an all-around stress reducer, music can be used any time of the day to alleviate common symptoms of insomnia, such as depression, chronic pain, and anxiety. This can help make it easier to sleep at night by reducing the amount of stress you feel before you go to bed. Listening to classical music right before bed is best. Avoid streaming music from your phone while trying to sleep. Instead, invest in a set of pillow speakers and experiment with different types of music that you find relaxing.