Several studies have shown that environmental factors such as sounds affect the way people sleep. Loud sounds or noises make you feel agitated and annoyed, while soft, calming sounds help you relax and fall asleep.
The latter is backed by researchers from Stanford University, who discovered that specific music enhances concentration or promotes relaxation. They added that listening to music has the same effect as taking medicine to treat neurological disorders such as depression and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). A 2018 study also revealed that auditory stimuli, such as exposure to melodic music, releases high levels of dopamine and serotonin in our brain. Dopamine is a hormone that controls pleasurable sensations and learning functions, while serotonin is a hormone that stabilizes our mood, particularly our feelings of well-being and happiness. Both dopamine and serotonin play an integral role in your sleep-wake cycle.
These findings alone show that sounds play a big role in the way we sleep. If you suffer from sleep deprivation, listening to calming sounds can help you fall asleep and get the sufficient amount of rest that your body and mind need.
How the body and brain processes sounds
It’s normal to listen to certain songs before going to sleep simply because you like how they sound. But there’s more to them than meets the eye―certain sounds engage various parts of your brain such as those linked to movement, language, attention, memory, and emotion.
Elizabeth Coombes, a music therapy lecturer at the University of South Wales, pointed out that slow or soothing music with simple melodies and beats can reduce a person’s anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate. In technical terms, quiet music increases the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which conserves and restores your body’s energy by slowing down the heart rate, decreases blood pressure, and controls other body processes in relaxed situations.
Marconi Union’s “Weightless”, for example, was found to help 157 surveyed patients relax before they went through surgery. The song had the same effect as a sedative medication used on patients before an operation. The British ambient band teamed up with sound therapists and incorporated scientific theory to ensure that “Weightless” would be considered the “world’s most relaxing song”. They were able to do so by mixing dreamy, mellow synths and soothing melodies and instrumentation into the song, making it an effective piece for relaxation.
Having a slower heart rate is normal when you sleep. Dr. Lawrence Epstein, an associate physician at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explained that sleep reduces the stimulation of the nervous system and slows down most body processes. Five minutes after you fall asleep, you will enter the light sleep stage―your heart rate will slow to its resting rate, your body temperature will drop, and your muscles will relax. Once you enter the deep sleep stage, your blood pressure will fall and your heart rate will further slow to 20% to 30% below your normal resting heart rate. The normal resting heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.
Thus, listening to music with a tempo or speed of 60 to 80 BPM will help you relax and regulate your heartbeat. Studies show that relaxing music has helped reduce sleeping problems and disorders like insomnia, as well as improve sleep quality.
Songs and playlists for sleep
Below are some songs that you can listen to to help you fall asleep at night:
- Next to Me by Syre
- Cherry Wine by Hozier
- Married With Children by Oasis
- Get You by Daniel Caesar
- Paris in the Rain by Lauv
To save time and effort, you can also just access these playlists, which consists of soothing and ambient music:
At the end of the day, you’re free to choose what kind of music you want to listen to before and while sleeping. Some people can fall asleep through loud noises, while others feel more relaxed with quiet music or no music at all. Whatever the case is, you should always optimize your sleep environment so that your brain and body can recharge after a long day.
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- Saarman, E. (2006, May 31). Feeling the beat: Symposium explores the therapeutic effects of rhythmic music. https://news.stanford.edu/news/2006/may31/brainwave-053106.html
- Moraes, M. M., Rabelo, P. C. R., Pinto, V. A., Pires, W., Wanner, S. P., Szawka, R. E., & Soares, D. D. (2018, April 23). Auditory stimulation by exposure to melodic music increases dopamine and serotonin activities in rat forebrain areas linked to reward and motor control. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29499311/
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2021, March 30). Tuning in: How music may affect your heart. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/tuning-in-how-music-may-affect-your-heart
- Coombes, E. (2019, November 23). Anxiety: a playlist to calm the mind from a music therapist. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/anxiety-a-playlist-to-calm-the-mind-from-a-music-therapist-121655
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- O’Connor, R. (2019, July 19). Weightless by Marconi Union: ‘World’s most relaxing song’ used to calm patients before surgery. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/relaxing-song-best-weightless-marconi-union-youtube-surgery-anxiety-a9011971.html
- Corliss, J. (2020, January 29). How does sleep affect your heart rate? Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-does-sleep-affect-your-heart-rate-2021012921846
- Harmat, L., Takács, J., & Bódizs, R. (2008, May). Music improves sleep quality in students. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18426457/
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- Woznicki, K. (2010, August 9). Brain Waves Show Why Some Sleep Through Noise. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20100809/brain-waves-show-why-some-sleep-through-noise