Type “best music for sleep” into YouTube and you’ll find hundreds of options to choose from, but is any of it actually effective? Studies have shown that music can improve the quality of your rest, increase the duration of your sleep, and decrease any insomnia symptoms you may have. Music is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to human emotion, and just as some music can put you in a happier mood, it can make you sleepy, as well.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that calm, classical music helped people to sleep better and decreased depressive symptoms. The study tested three groups of study participants, with 94 students total. All of the students had current sleep complaints. Group 1 was instructed to listen to relaxing music for 45 minutes, three nights a week. Group 2 was to listen to an audiobook for the same duration. Group 3 was the control group, who were told to continue on with their normal sleep habits and schedules. The study results concluded that relaxing classical music could help reduce sleeping issues and was a verified treatment for nurses that had patients with insomnia. Also, the study found that participants got better quality sleep each night, meaning the effects were cumulative.
However, don’t think that you’re stuck with Mozart and Beethoven for the rest of your evenings. As long as your music of choice is string-instrument based, with minimal bass and percussion, it has the potential to make you sleepy. This is because the music can actually help control anxiety, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rates.
Music with about 60 beats per minute mimics the low end of a healthy resting heart rate and can lead your brain to synchronize your heart rate with the musical beat. This means that the beat of the music actually works to control your heart rate and bring it down to the level you usually sleep at. This in turn makes you feel tired and leads you into sleep.
White noise has also been shown to have similar effects on the mind and body. White noise is a combination of all the different frequencies of audible sound that the human ear and brain can perceive. It sounds like static on your tv, but it can also be found in nature, like the sound of rain or a waterfall. If you’re not a fan of music at bedtime, you might try white noise instead.
While classical music is the most likely to give you all of these relaxing and sleepy feelings, feel free to experiment with Native American and Celtic music, Indian stringed instruments, flutes, and light jazz. If that’s not your speed, you could even try a favorite song of yours in an acoustic, instrumental version.
But I know what you’re thinking. You just want the perfect song to sing you to sleep, and you don’t want to have to search for it. Well, we found it for you. It’s called “Weightless” (below) and it’s by Marconi Union. Lyz Cooper, founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, explained that the rhythm of “Weightless” lulls you to sleep by perfectly synchronizing with your heart rate and bringing it down to a resting rate, along with your breathing patterns. In fact, it’s been scientifically proven to reduce blood pressure and decrease levels of cortisol (your body’s stress hormone), and scientists have warned that it’s dangerous to listen to while driving because it’s so effective. According to Mindlab International, “Weightless” induces a 65% reduction in anxiety and a 35% reduction in usual physiological resting rates.
It starts at 60 beats per minute and then gradually slows down to around 50. It’s composed of guitar, piano, and electronic samples of natural soundscapes, along with random chimes that induce a deeper sense of relaxation, and whooshing tones similar to Buddhist chants that supposedly induce trance-like states. Also, the non-repeating melody allows your brain to completely switch off because you are no longer trying to predict what is coming next.
But don’t expect these tunes to work like a magic pill. Much like the experimental study we talked about, you might need to listen to the music for up to 45 minutes for it to take effect. Your body also has the easiest time syncing with the music when you are less stimulated, so start the music while you’re winding down for the night, brushing your teeth, cleaning up your room, or reading in bed. You want the volume set low so that it becomes background music, not loud so that it takes your full attention and then stimulates your brain too much for sleep.
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