Music is a truly amazing thing. The impact a particular melody can have on our brain is quite astonishing. Music has the power to lift our mood, trigger creativity and yes, even help us sleep.
Now, not all music is of course created equally when it comes to sleep. You would probably think that gentle, relaxing, ambient music may work better than heavy metal but that completely depends on the individual. What’s music for your ears may be someone else’s worst nightmare.
Our musical tastes are highly subjective, listening to Mozart may put your girlfriend in a calm frame of mind, while listened to Black Sabbath might send you to sleep in seconds. It’s impossible to prescribe one tune to suit everyone.
Read on below and we’ll explain a little further the relationship between sleep and music.
Music and the brain
Listening to music has many effects on our brain, nearly all of them positive in nature.
When we hear music both hemispheres of our brain light up. There’s something about the deliberate arrangement of sound that triggers a response from both the logical right side and the creative left. This engagement of both hemispheres is thought to help problem solving. So if you’re stuck on an answer in the crossword, put you pen down for a moment and put your headphones on.
Listening to songs we are familiar with and like has been shown to trigger the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with long term memory. That’s why when you’re driving in the car late at night and a certain song comes on you may be overwhelmed with memories of childhood, college or even former lovers.
Pleasant songs have been shown to generate the release of the hormone serotonin, a very important substance for our happiness levels and in the regulation of our sleep cycles. More on that below.
Music can help us relax
Despite being in theory a sanctuary of relaxation, our bedrooms tend to be the places where our worries and anxieties shout the loudest. When that light goes out at night there’s no place left to hide and all those concerns we’ve been busy avoiding all day suddenly bubble up. The result is an hour of tossing and turning. Music can help here.
A familiar song has the transcendent power to calm a racing mind and lift us to another plane. A place of tranquility and relaxation.
On a hormonal level the release of serotonin mentioned above plays an important role in reducing stress. The more serotonin being produced by our body the less cortisol it will be pumping out. Cortisol being the ‘stress hormone’. The less cortisol in our system the less anxious we feel, the more likely we are to drift off promptly.
If you are listening to music at night to relax one thing you don’t want to be worrying about is keeping the rest of the house awake. Choosing the right pair of earbuds for bed can make the world of difference.
Music readies the body for sleep
I’m sure you have vague wisps of memories of your mother or father singing lullabies and ‘lulling’ you to sleep. This is because right music has been shown to prepare the body for sleepytimes. The same process that worked on you as a nipper will still work on you now.
As I mentioned above, musical taste is about as subjective as anything can be. Songs I find relaxing maybe ear torture to my nextdoor neighbour. That said, science has done some research on the subject of ‘best’ songs to which to sleep to and there is a consensus that for the average person, songs that fall into a sweet spot of 60 to 80 BPM (beats per minute) will generally have the most somnambulatory effect.
Why 60-80 BPM? Well that’s because our bodies cardiovascular system has a canny habit of falling into sync with a beat, a process known as entrainment. With a reduction in heartbeat comes a reduction in blood pressure and breathing rate, with this follows an increased likeliness to sleep. Reggae is especially popular for this very reason, as are ambient tunes.
Best song for sleep
A number of years ago, a team of neuroscientists decided to get their science on and work out what exactly was the most relaxing song ever. Using clever science-y methods, they determined that a particular song called Weightless, by British ambient music outfit Marconi Union was the winner.
The founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, Lyz Cooper, noted that the “song contains a sustaining rhythm that starts at 60 beats per minute and gradually slows to around 50.” Suggesting that it had a powerful entraining effect on the listening.
Well, there you go my fellow music fans – why listening to music at night could be incredibly good for your sleep. Why not give it whirl?