How You Can Use Music to Get More Sleep

How You Can Use Music to Get More Sleep

Our brains are hardwired to respond to music. When we hear a particular song, it can bring back a memory, inspire us to push through the hard part of a workout, or even get us up on stage to sing along at karaoke night.

Music’s powerful and diverse effects on the mind can also influence our body’s physiological responses. Just as an upbeat tune can pump you up for that last half-mile, slower-paced music can soothe and relax you and help you drift off at night. Learn how the science behind sleep music works and which types of music to add to your bedtime routine.

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How Music Helps You Sleep

woman sleeping with headphones

As it turns out, there’s science behind how certain characteristics of music contribute to better sleep. Research has found that music clocking in around 60 beats per minute with no sharp changes in tempo or volume is most conducive to summoning the sandman. The hypothesis is that the body syncs up with that tempo of 60 BPM, a healthy resting heart rate that’s most conducive to sleep.

As the slower rhythms calm our heart rate, other changes in the parasympathetic nervous system, our body’s natural relaxation response, also occur: Breathing slows down, and blood pressure decreases.

A quieted nervous system also helps regulate our hormone levels. Production of the stress hormone cortisol decreases, levels of the “feel-good hormone” dopamine increase, and sleep-friendly hormones, including serotonin and oxytocin, are released. As our relaxation response is activated, we feel less stressed and anxious, helping to slow down the thoughts and worries that often keep us awake.

Music’s impact on physical and psychological responses may even help reduce physical pain, which can keep some people from falling and staying asleep.


What Type of Music Is Best for Sleep?

Though studies offer insight into some good listening choices, music preferences are pretty personal depending on your musical taste, so factor that into your pre-sleep selection.

Research connecting music and sleep has often zeroed in on classical music, showing that it benefits sleep patterns and the brain. In one survey analysis, Johann Sebastian Bach was the most-listened-to composer. But Bach was closely followed by Ed Sheeran, Mozart, Brian Eno, Coldplay, and Chopin — quite a diverse group of artists! Genres that participants said aided their sleep ran the gamut from jazz, folk, and instrumental to house, meditation, and even movie soundtracks. So take your pick.

Another study suggests that music with lower frequencies such as a stronger bass line, a slow and sustained duration of musical notes, and non-danceable rhythms were best at helping people fall asleep. Most sleep experts suggest opting for instrumental music so you’re not distracted by lyrics.

Even sound baths, which use vibrational instruments like Tibetan and crystal singing bowls, chimes, bells, and gongs to produce an immersive, meditative aural experience, can stimulate a relaxation response and deep sleep.

If you’re not sure where to start, consider listening to what’s been called the most relaxing song in the world. “Weightless,” commissioned by The British Academy of Sound and created by English trio Marconi Union in collaboration with sound therapists, includes a precise combination of rhythms, tones, and tempos. It has been shown to reduce anxiety by up to 65 percent, and produced a greater state of relaxation than any other music tested to date.


Which Sleep Issues Can Music Improve?

woman who can't fall asleep

In a meta-analysis of 10 sleep studies, music improved sleep quality for both acute and chronic sleep disorders. Listening to music before bed can decrease the time it takes to fall asleep. In one study of women with symptoms of insomnia, participants listened to a self-selected playlist for 10 consecutive nights when getting into bed. Before adding music to their evening routine it took the women between 27 and 69 minutes to fall asleep; after adding music it took just 6 to 13 minutes.

Playing music before bed can also improve sleep efficiency — the time you’re actually asleep compared to the overall time you spend in bed. (Lower sleep efficiency can be an indication of restless sleep with awakenings throughout the night, trouble falling asleep, or waking up in the night and not being able to fall back asleep.) Research has shown that people who listened to music before bed slept longer and functioned better the following day.


How to Make Music Part of Your Bedtime Routine

We are creatures of habit, and our bodies respond to routine.

Creating an evening wind-down ritual of listening to music as you’re getting into bed will signal your body that it’s time to rest. The more often you incorporate music into your nightly routine, the more your sleep quality can improve over time. And it won’t take long. One study found that music can improve sleep quality within three weeks.

The sweet spot for listening time seems to be around 45 minutes, which can increase the amount of restorative sleep — deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — you get. So think about choosing a longer piece of music or putting together a bedtime playlist. Streaming services like Spotify also have pre-selected playlists like this one.

Experiment with different music to see what you find most relaxing. Many companies make earbuds for sleep, though some experts advise against using them as they can cause damage to the ear canal.

Music can help form a bridge between our awake and sleep states by facilitating our body’s relaxation response. It’s easily accessible, and a pharmaceutical-free way to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep. Better sleep, of course, means better daytime functioning in so many ways. We can work out harder, recover better, and ultimately be a better version of ourselves.