Music has been used to influence the human body since ancient times when Greek philosophers prescribed soothing songs to calm anxiety, alleviate depression, and promote pleasant dreams. Music, the Greeks believed, could bring calm and harmony to the body and spirit.
Over the years, humans continued to harness the healing power of music. In the late 1800s, London hospitals invited choirs of singers and musicians to perform for patients. After World War II, government health departments introduced music therapy programs designed to help veterans recover.
In the years that followed World War II, the concept of music therapy surged as researchers discovered more about music’s impact on the mind and body. Modern research has confirmed numerous physiological benefits of music, including stress and anxiety reduction, improved creativity and focus, and even pain relief.
Unsurprisingly, music has also been shown to be a powerful tool for promoting restful sleep. Once confined to fringe culture like meditation, the field of sleep music has become mainstream over the last ten years. Today, you can lull yourself into deep snoozing with the help of a seemingly endless array of sleep-centric playlists on Spotify and sleep music apps.
Bedsmade explores the science of sleep music how calming tunes can help you to catch better Zs.
So, what exactly is going on when you listen to music at bedtime? Here are five ways music affects your sleep, according to science:
Music stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system.
Research has revealed that relaxing music stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of your nervous system that controls your body when it's at rest. When the parasympathetic nervous system is active, it creates a feeling of relaxation and calm in your mind and body.
It reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Studies have also looked into the effect of music on cortisol, a stress hormone that increases alertness and can hinder sleep. Instrumental music has been found to reduce cortisol levels in the body and produce a mild sedative effect.
Music triggers dopamine production.
Research has shown that music can trigger the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps reduce pain and negative feelings—both of which are common causes of sleep disruptions. Recent research has confirmed that serotonin is necessary for obtaining and maintaining deep sleep.
Music eases anxiety.
Numerous studies have confirmed music’s power to reduce anxiety—a frequent culprit behind sleep problems. Other research has suggested music may reduce blood pressure and heart rate, which can help you feel less anxious. And by distracting you from racing thoughts, music can soothe you to sleep.
Music can shut out environmental noise.
Late-night sounds—from honking cars to a snoring partner—can interrupt your sleep. Bedtime tunes can help shut out environmental noise and facilitate restful, uninterrupted sleep.
While music can be a mighty mood regulator, only tunes with a certain tempo are suited to induce calmness and sleep. Most studies suggest songs with a tempo between 60 and 80 beats per minute (BPM) are most effective for promoting sleep. Some researchers believe that because your resting heart rate typically falls between 60 and 100 BPM, music of the same tempo can help your body harmonise with your heartbeat. Music that meets this criterion typically includes classical music, folk, and chill out and ambient music. Some of our favourite sleep-inducing tunes are Dirty Three’s “Backwards Voyager,” Gordi’s “Aeroplane Bathroom,” Sigur Ros’ “Svefn-g-englar,” and the Cowboy Junkies’ “Sweet Jane.”
Once you’ve queued up a relaxing playlist, all that’s left is to snuggle into your luxury bed sheets and drift off into dreamland.