Sleep Health

Let music carry you into slumber


We've all nodded off to music before, so why not use it help you fall sound asleep? It's nothing new, of course. People have been using music for hundreds of years to calm the body and mind. But only recently is there enough evidence to show that the benefits of music on sleep are real and not purely spiritual.


With the spread of COVID-19, sleep has never been more important. Yet people are going to bed later and sleeping worse than ever before. The good news is that most people are looking at ways to fix their sleep issues. Listening to music happens to be one of the most popular methods. It might explain why there has been a big surge in popularity for sleep music on YouTube and Spotify this year.


In one well-cited study1, researchers divided 90+ students with sleeping problems into three groups. One group listened to classical music, another group played an audiobook, and the last group did nothing.


The results were telling: 30 of the 35 students in the group who listened to music became better sleepers compared with 9 of the 30 who used the audiobook. The remaining group was a control group and showed no changes.1 Several other studies also prove that music helps participants sleep better.2


It may seem odd that we're only waking up to this fact now, but it's not that surprising. The ideas of wellness, mindfulness and sleep health have only become normalised in the last few years. A decade ago, you'll be in the minority for trying such crazy ideas! You could say the same about people's attitudes toward sleep. The only shame is that it's taken so long to realise these things.


Now before you crank out the tunes and blast the beats, there is a caveat. Researchers have found not all music will help you settle in for a good night's sleep. Music with a tempo of around 60 beats per minute (bpm) will make the most significant difference. They say it's because this tempo helps to promote a matching resting heart rate of 60 bpm, a rate that's known to be the most conducive to sleep.2


It's no coincidence then that the song claimed to be the most relaxing ever also clocks in with a tempo of 60 bpm alongside its carefully constructed rhythm and tones. Titled "Weightless", the song was produced back in 2016 by the British band Marconi Union in collaboration with clinical sleep therapists. The goal was to reduce a listener's heart rate as well as their stress levels. A slower heart rate takes us away from a 'fight or flight' mode to a 'rest and digest' mode where we're less likely wake up from.


While music is subjective, one can imagine a future where songs become scientifically produced to be as effective as other sleep aids for sleep disorders. Until then, though, you'll just have to take your time to find your own playlist of soothing tunes. That's not a hard job for a good night's rest. 


Music can have incredible success for people with trouble sleeping. Still, it's important to know that there may be other sleep issues that music simply can't fix. Just like musical tastes, you'll need to understand your sleep to know what works for you and what doesn't.


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Harmat L, Takács J, Bódizs R. "Music improves sleep quality in students". J Adv Nurs. Vol. 62, no. 3, 2008, p 327-35.


Wang CF, Sun YL, Zang HX. "Music therapy improves sleep quality in acute and chronic sleep disorders: A meta-analysis of 10 randomised studies". Int J Nurs Stud. Vol. 51, no. 1, 2014, p 51–62.

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