Sleep music

Image of Dr Simon Kyle
By Dr Simon Kyle

Throughout history, people have used music to alleviate stress, distress and even illness. Those experiencing sleep problems may find soothing music before bedtime helps them to relax and 'let go' and ultimately sleep more easily.

Choosing the right type of music to sleep to

Music choice is, of course, ultimately down personal preference, but here is our guide to sleep music.

Our top tip is to avoid your favorite songs as well as anything too uplifting, which might over-stimulate you before you go to bed, or once you are in bed. Instead, opt for music that blends into your sleeping environment and calms your mind.

Sounds of nature
Nature sounds, such as the sound of ocean or the sound of rain, are some of the most popular sleep-inducing sounds, and may help to 'transport' you to a more restful mental space.

The often monotonous repetition of sounds can even aid the onset of sleep by helping distract your thoughts and relax your muscles (Harmat et. al, 2008).

Ambient music
Sometimes inspired by sounds of nature, ambient music is a genre of music that can evoke calming mental images and emotions without being a distraction. As such, it may help to promote relaxation in your daily environment without distracting you from other tasks.

Classical music
Being predominantly instrumental, classical music is often thought of as sleep-inducing music. Whilst the upbeat fugues, concertos and other such options should be avoided, listening to relaxing classical compositions has been shown to promote good sleep in students and the elderly.

Audiobooks and podcasts
Of course, there are people who prefer to listen to voices, and choose audiobooks over music to relax before bedtime. Much like music to help you sleep, vocal tracks may help to quieten a racing mind and allow you to forget the day's events. We would not recommend opting for any exciting plot lines however; instead choose books that don't require too much mental effort on your part.

It must be noted, however, that one study found that listening to audiobooks for 45 minutes before bedtime did not improve sleep quality in students as significantly as classical music did. There is also the risk that, if music is left playing throughout the night, it may actually interfere with sleep by increasing the probability of arousals.

In any case, whilst music at bedtime won't help every poor sleeper, it does have a proven track record in the elderly population. Several research studies have shown that soothing music can help improve the quality of sleep in the older population by helping the onset of sleep, sleep duration and can lead to greater satisfaction with sleep. It is worth pointing out, however, that music therapy has no evidence to support the amelioration of chronic poor sleep in the long-term.

Reference:

Harmat, L., Takacs, J., Bodizs, R. (2008). Music improves sleep quality in students. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(3), 327-335.
Johnson, J.E. (2003). The use of music to promote sleep in older women. Journal of Community Health Nursing, 20(1), 27-35.
Lai, H.L., Good, M. (2005). Music improves sleep quality in older adults. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 49(3), 234-244.

Filed under: Sleep aids