Everybody loves listening to music. But not everyone knows that music can actually help you sleep. A new study has shown that certain kinds of music help you sleep better and more easily. The best choices? Ed Sheeran and Coldplay.
Or at least those were the overwhelmingly popular choices in a recent University of Sheffield study. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they used music to help them fall asleep.
Of these, people named 500 different musical artists and groups. But Ed Sheeran and Coldplay were leaders for aiding people who were trying to get some shuteye.
In fact, music might even help us sleep better.
How, exactly? By signaling our brains that we’re safe and sound.
“When you sleep, the one sense that you need is the ears to know you’re safe, right?” said Dr. Carol Ash, a sleep specialist at Robert Wood Barnabas Johnson Health in New Jersey. “If you’re sleeping at night, our ancestors may have been eaten by predators, so they needed to have a way to know the environment’s not safe. So, purring, cooing, low tones, sounds that come in at 60 beats per minute are very soothing. It activates the brain in a way that tells you you’re safe.”
It’s a big part of how we interpret our environment.
Even more, Ash said, it can actually help reprogram our brains if sleep disorders have made us associate sleep areas with stress.
For example, people with insomnia often have subconscious associations that the bedroom equals stress because their bedroom is the place where they can’t relax. This turns into a self-feeding cycle as it generates more stress and makes them even less likely to be able to sleep.
But music might be able to change that.
By deprogramming our brains, we can signal that formerly stressful environments are actually soothing and safe. This is one reason music can help us fall asleep more easily and sleep better.
“When we go to bed and we’re not having trouble with insomnia, we think bed, sleep,” Ash said. “People with insomnia think bed, wide awake. So, insomnia is a disorder of hyperarousal and learned behaviors, what you’ve come to expect of your bedroom. So, there’s science now that shows that music actually influences you at a neurochemical level.”
Music triggers the brain’s release of dopamine, the pleasure chemical that helps people relax.
It also triggers the cerebellum, which controls movement. But most of all, it affects the center of the brain that controls expectations. This is why it’s so effective at “reprogramming” our anticipation of what a sleep environment will consist of.
For these reasons, music not only helps us fall asleep but also helps us sleep better. It continues to signal to our brains, even while we’re unconscious, that we’re in a safe, relaxing place where we can expect to rest well.
But clearly, not every genre falls under the category of “relaxing music.”
Plenty of genres might make you want to get up and dance instead. So, what kind of music should we listen to when we go to bed?
One criterion when it comes to choosing a “sleep playlist” is to choose songs that you’re already familiar with. There’s a lot of comfort in familiarity and predictability, so music that we know well can help us relax. But there’s even more to the science of music and sleep.
Lyz Cooper of the British Academy of Sound Therapy said the best songs for relaxation have 60 beats per minute or fewer. These songs are usually slow, low, and relaxing. They signal a primal feeling in humans that everything is safe and well and that it is time to relax.
Low tones and repetition are helpful.
Cooper also reiterated the emphasis on familiarity, especially familiar music that has good memories attached to it. Sound is strongly connected to memory, so music can remind us of happy times or unhappy times depending on our experiences.
About 30 percent of survey respondents said they listen to classical music to help them sleep. Some of the most popular composers cited include Bach, Mozart, and Chopin. But modern artists like Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, and Brian Eno also topped the list.
Sleep disorders affect up to 70 million Americans. These include insomnia, sleep apnea, poor sleep, and fatigue.
People also underestimate the importance of sleep on their overall health. The quality of your sleep can directly affect everything from your mood to your memory and weight. This is one reason why it’s so important to make sure you’re sleeping enough and sleeping well. Unfortunately, most adults aren’t prioritizing sleep.
But sleep problems aren’t the only thing that music can help with.
Studies have shown that music is also amazingly effective at helping people reduce anxiety and stress levels, become more productive, and even manage physical pain. So, it’s no surprise that it can also help with sleep issues. People have a strong memory association with music, which might be why it’s so effective at improving our mood and making us more motivated.
People who are struggling to sleep might do well to put together a sleep playlist. There are great ways to do this on most music platforms. Just throw together some slow songs that remind you of good times. Then, hit the hay.
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