The best types of music to sleep to

How music helps you to achieve better sleep

Does music help you sleep better and relax faster?

We spoke to Clinical Psychologist Dr Kimberly Falconer to understand more about how certain types of music can help you sleep. With over ten years’ experience working throughout NZ and internationally, Dr Falconer now works at NZ Respiratory and Sleep Institute in Auckland, specialising in using best practice cognitive behavioural therapy to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders.

Does music help children to fall asleep?

There is evidence that playing calming music or lullabies before bedtime can help children fall asleep. Dr Falconer notes that calming bedtime music may help children to fall asleep faster – “as many parents will attest, lullabies are one of the best ways to help children fall asleep.” A research study done into the effects of music on sleep published in the Journal of Musical Therapy also found that children who listen to background music at naptime and bedtime improved sleep quality. When playing sleep inducing music at your child’s bedtime, we suggest choosing something calming, like a lullaby or classical music. While sleeping with music, try to avoid anything too loud or upbeat which can hinder sleeping.

Does music help adults sleep?

While research around whether music can help with sleep has been historically varied, the verdict seems to be that music has a positive effect on sleep quality, as well as helping people to fall asleep faster. Dr Falconer has noticed growing public interest in ways to improve sleep, particularly around music and sleep. “With so much growing interest around sleep and its improvement, it is no surprise that research is now starting to look at how and why a harmony to our ears might support a more balanced night’s sleep overall”. “Most meta-analyses of music and sleep-related studies highlight a mostly positive result, music has the potential to help with sleep quality in addition to improving the time it takes to fall asleep.”

Man holding a baby selecting songs
Girl listening to music with headphones on

What's the best music to help you sleep?

Here are Dr Falconer’s top tips on the types of music you shouldo choose to help you sleep and achieve a relaxing night’s rest.

1.

SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE

Growing research supports the idea that music with a slow beat is most useful at bedtime, particularly when thinking about synchronising our biological rhythms to best prepare for a relaxed, sleepy state. Slow-paced music with 60 – 80 beats per minute seems most helpful in terms of lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, gearing your body more helpfully for a state of slumber.

2.

AVOID MUSIC WITH A HIGHLY EMOTIVE ELEMENT

When listening before bed, it iss best to avoid music that sparks a strong emotional reaction, whether pleasant or not. Sad, happy or even nostalgic music can heighten your emotions and brain activity, making it more difficult to enter a restful state. Choose music that provokes a more neutral response, rather than songs that trigger strong memories or a sense of excitement. Recent studies have suggested that songs with a dominance of string-based instruments and very little input from drums or horns are most helpful.

3.

LYRIC FREE MIGHT BE BEST

Music without words tends to be the best at helping you sleep. This is because instrumental music limits your temptation to follow along with the words of the song and stimulates the cognitive centres of your brain. Bedtime is about quietening down these neural areas and lyrics risk provoking an emotional response, making it harder to switch off to sleep.

4.

DON’T USE MUSIC TOO RIGIDLY

It’s important to have some variation in the types of music you choose to listen to before you go to sleep. This is especially true if you are listening to the same music during more stressful parts of your day. Given the mediating role that relaxation plays in the relationship between music and sleep, it’s essential to prevent music from becoming a stressful part of an overly rigid night routine. As with all good bedtime practices, the use of music should minimise stress and promote a relaxed state. Be sure to vary the pieces you are using to ensure you stay flexible in your approach, rather than becoming dependent on having the same tune at the same time, every night.

5.

BE MINDFUL OF THE REST OF YOUR ENVIRONMENT

When it comes to sleep hygiene, it’s important not to do things in isolation. At the same time as listening to music before bedtime, you should also take care to ensure screen usage is minimal (particularly in the couple of hours before lights-out) and you are winding down with minimal lights, noise and interaction. If you are using devices for your music, use night-mode or filtered screens and make sure any earplugs do not hinder your bedtime comfort. Consider using timers to minimise the risk of unnecessary waking as a result of music interfering with your sleep overnight.

6.

LISTEN TO MUSIC DURING THE DAY AS PART OF A HEALTHY STRESS MANAGEMENT APPROACH

Make sure you consider other ways that music can help outside of the bedroom environment. In the same way that naps and meditation can support healthy sleep, the use of music throughout the day can be another effective tool for stress management. Depending on the type of music chosen, this has been shown to increase motivation, boost creativity or help with a reduction in anxiety and cortisone levels. Effective stress management across the day is one of the best ways to improve sleep outcomes and enhance sleep quality overnight.

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