Music for sleep

If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, one soporific, or sleep-inducing, activity that you may want to consider is listening to some calming music.  Music can be used to facilitate sleep in a variety of ways.  

For example, using music for meditation can serve as a stress-buster. Listening to music to promote sleep, whether as part of a nighttime meditation program or used as part of a less structured program for sleep, can calm the mind and body and serve as a way to unwind after a nerve-wracking day.

Let’s take a look at the scientific evidence supporting why listening to music can improve sleep.  Make sure to check out the sleep music and relaxing music playlists on the Remrise app to incorporate music for sleep in your sleep hygiene regimen.

Lullabies

Perhaps the oldest of the sleep inducing music genres is the lullaby. Lullabies help promote sleep and strengthen the parent-child bond. You may remember when your mom or dad used to sing you lullabies to help you drift off to dreamland. 

Lullabies are scientifically proven to work in several ways to help you get to sleep.[1] Firstly, because of their calming nature, lullabies stimulate positive emotions, which can help babies sleep better than with negative emotions. In doing so, lullabies create an environment which is conducive to a peaceful bedtime.  

A second reason lullabies work is that they promote parent-child bonding thanks to the release of the so-called “love and cuddle hormone” oxytocin. Oxytocin is released in the parent’s brain during the singing of lullabies, which helps the parent-child relationship build stronger bonds. A deep bond between parent and child means that the child is more likely to go to sleep in their presence.  

Finally, lullabies help establish a routine that signal that bedtime has arrived. Other benefits of lullabies you may have been sung as a child include decreased stress and anxiety, improved memory and attention span, and stimulation of language and cognitive development.[1]  Indeed, lullabies are used around the world to help children sleep each night.

Lullabies are just one example of how music can help improve your sleep. Let’s dive into a few other ways you can use music for sleep in adulthood.

Soundscapes for meditation and relaxation

A soundscape is a sound or combination of sounds that forms or arises from an immersive environment.[2] Unlike music, a soundscape might not have a discernible rhythm or a melody, which make up the common components of structured music. Nevertheless, soundscapes can have chords, and even melodic accents.

They can help you reduce stress and anxiety by setting a serene atmosphere that welcomes sleep.

Soothing soundscapes can also be used as a backdrop for pre-sleep meditation.  It can help you fall asleep faster and amplify delta rhythms — high-amplitude brain waves that have a frequency of anywhere between 0 and 4 hertz. Delta waves are linked to slow-wave sleep, a phase of deep sleep that is essential for memory and body restoration.

Soundscapes can be composed of different types of acoustic and electronic sounds. You might hear rustling leaves or water flowing over rocks in a babbling brook, with the various frequencies of sound covered by overlapping electronic and nature sounds.  

With soundscapes, you can listen to the birds, sit by the ocean, take a walk through a forest — all in your mind!  

Relaxing Music for Calming the Mind and Winding Down

Any type of relaxing music can be used to calm the mind and wind down at night to promote an environment more conducive to sleep. Music can reduce stress hormones, boost feelings of happiness, and improve mood. This has several long-term benefits for your health, including lower stress and anxiety, improved sleep patterns, and better overall health and well-being.[3]

Music can reduce heart rate and slow breathing, decrease blood pressure, and help muscles relax. Music as a sleep aid is safer than pharmaceutical sleep aids as it is not habit-forming, and there are virtually no negative side effects.[4]

Your ideal sleep music should be soothing. You may wish to opt for music that is familiar and that you enjoy.  Music that has a slower beat is ideal — about 70 beats per minute (BPM), which includes many classical, jazz, and folk songs. You probably don’t want to listen to your workout mix before sleep, for example, because it could make you feel more awake and energized, boosting your heart rate and stress hormones – which is not what you want in sleep music.

Ambient Music for Sleep

Ambient sleeping music is another option that can help you sleep better.  Ambient music is a type of music that is focused on creating a mood or atmosphere.[6]  Often lacking a net composition, beat, or structured melody, ambient music layers different sound textures, which makes it ideal for passive listening, e.g., to facilitate a good night’s sleep.

Beneficial Effects of Music on Sleep Quality

Scientists believe that listening to music facilitates the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain.  Dopamine is associated with feelings of reward, happiness, and excitement.  Listening to new music produces the most dopamine, while listening to familiar music produces lower levels of dopamine.[3]

Researchers have, more specifically, studied the role of music in promoting healthy sleep in a variety of populations. One study conducted in an intensive care unit found that using earplugs and eye masks in conjunction with relaxing background music was associated with improvements in perceived sleep quality as well as reduced cortisol levels.[8]  

Another study conducted on 94 university students in Hungary found that relaxing classical music was effective as an intervention to reduce sleeping problems in an inexpensive and safe way.[8

A meta-analysis of several studies of music-assisted relaxation to improve sleep quality found that music-assisted relaxation improved sleep quality of patients with sleep issues, concluding that: “music‐assisted relaxation can be used without intensive investment in training and materials and is therefore cheap, easily available and can be used […] to promote music‐assisted relaxation to improve sleep quality.” [9

Conclusion

Music can help promote restful, good-quality sleep in a variety of ways. We have developed a playlist of sleep music that you can use on your journey to get better, more restful sleep. Check out our sleep music playlist on the Remrise app.

Glossary

Ambient music: A type of music that is focused on creating a mood or atmosphere.  Often lacking a net composition, beat, or structured melody, ambient music uses textural layers of sound which make it ideal for passive listening, e.g., to facilitate sleep.

Delta waves: High-amplitude brain waves that oscillate between 0 and 4 hertz and are associated with slow-wave sleep, a phase of deep sleep that is essential for memory.

Dopamine: A chemical substance found in the brain, the neurotransmitter dopamine is associated with feelings of reward, happiness, and excitement.

Soporific: Sleep-inducing.

Soundscape: A sound or combination of sounds that form or arise from an immersive environment (e.g., rustling leaves or water flowing over rocks in a babbling brook).

References

  1. “Why Lullabies Work, According to the Experts.”  Motherly. Available at https://www.mother.ly/parenting/lullabies-work-according-experts.
  2. “The Sound of Life: What is a Soundscape?” Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage.  Available at https://folklife.si.edu/talkstory/the-sound-of-life-what-is-a-soundscape.
  3. “The Science Behind the Relaxing Effects of Music.”  Audio Technica. Available at https://blog.audio-technica.com/science-behind-relaxing-effects-music/.
  4. “Can Music Help You Calm Down and Sleep Better?” National Sleep Foundation.  Available at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/can-music-help-you-calm-down-and-sleep-better.
  5. “What is Ambient Music?” Pandora.  Available at http://blog.pandora.com/us/what-is-ambient-music/.
  6. “What “Ambient” Music Means to Me.”  Medium. Available at https://medium.com/@metalex9/what-ambient-music-means-to-me-adaac4e277c2.
  7. Hu, RF, et al.  2015. “Effects of earplugs and eye masks combined with relaxing music on sleep, melatonin and cortisol levels in ICU patients: a randomized controlled trial.”  Critical Care.  Available at https://ccforum.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13054-015-0855-3.
  8. Harmat L, et al.  2008. “Music improves sleep quality in students.”  Journal of Advanced Nursing.  Available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04602.x
  9. De Niet G, et al.  2009. “Music‐assisted relaxation to improve sleep quality: meta‐analysis.”  Available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2009.04982.x