≡ Menu

Can Music Help Me Sleep?

One thing all humans need is sleep. You cannot deny this fact for long. Maybe you decide that you don’t have time to sleep and would rather stay up to work or party. Maybe caregiving responsibilities keep you up at night, when an infant starts crying or a senior with dementia starts wandering around the house. Maybe pain or anxiety or bad dreams or who-knows-what keeps you from falling asleep or staying asleep. Eventually, you hit a wall and face the truth:

You have to sleep.

Sleeping like a baby. It’s what we all want, right?

So what if you have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep? What if your available time is so limited that you don’t get ideal circumstances – you have to sleep when it’s daylight outside and the neighbors are mowing the lawn, or you can only catch a few hours while your friend spends time with your mom who has dementia? What can you do to get the sleep you need?

Sleep is a huge topic among health professionals, and there are many ways to improve your sleep. Music is one of the factors that can improve the length and quality of your sleep. In fact, research evidence has pointed towards ways that music can improve sleep in hospitals and nursing homes, and for people who have pain or other medical conditions.

How does music help?

Here are a few possibilities:

  • Music raises the noise floor. We tend to be more bothered by sudden loud sounds, those that are a certain amount louder than the ambient noise in our environment. That’s why whispers and cell phone rings are so much more distracting in the library than at the bus stop. Adding music to the environment raises the “noise floor” so that the sudden sounds aren’t as distracting. Sometimes called masking, this use of music works well in hospitals and nursing homes where there can be a lot of excess noise from health care workers, alarms and chimes, medical equipment, etc. It works well in a noisy home environment, too.
  • Music is better organized. In other words, music is regular and rhythmic, while other sounds – your family TV, the traffic outside, or the dishwasher – are irregular and more jarring. Our bodies tend to sync up with the dominant sound stimuli around us, in a process known as entrainment.
  • Music can be pleasant. Would you rather listen to your neighbor revving his engine or your favorite Bach Sonata or Enya track? Yeah, I thought so. It is important, though, to choose music that works well for YOU – music in a style you like that doesn’t bring up bad memories or uncomfortable feelings. You can read more about choosing music for relaxation here.
  • Music pairs well with relaxation exercises. Speaking of relaxation, we know that music is a great support for relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and imagery.

Caution!

Yes, music can be very helpful in supporting sleep, but it’s important to know that music can interfere with sleep, too. Keep this in mind:

  • Music is stimulating and adds to the noise. Over-stimulation can be harmful, increasing agitation and preventing sleep. It is not okay to play music constantly instead of doing your best to decrease the noise in the environment.
  • Music can be right for some people and wrong for others. The music must fit the situation and the person, and it’s important to choose music that the person likes (see above).
  • Music does not replace other good sleep hygiene habits. That means you still need to reduce caffeine and alcohol intake, keep the lights low in the evening, aim for a regular sleep schedule, and use your bed only for sleeping and sex. All of that advice still applies!

Have you tried using music to help you sleep? What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked so well? Please leave a comment below!

17 comments… add one
  • Marty Tousley

    Thank you for this, Rachelle! I’ve added your post to my article, “Tips for Coping with Sleeplessness in Grief, ” here: http://j.mp/hkoXnZ

  • Rachelle,

    We used white noise with my daughter, and it was incredibly helpful. I also used music more when my husband worked nights. He would stay up later than me, often watching TV, and the music helped drown out the sound effects.

    Thanks for all the helpful suggestions.

    Warmly,
    Ann

    • That’s great! We used white noise with Alice, too, but I find it annoying. The research on masking seems to be mixed, too. As always, it seems we’re all a little different in what we need.

  • Sandy

    I like the sweet little baby in the picture ;o)

  • Hi Rachelle – Love this post! I sometime work with parents who are trying to get their child to sleep all night and we often let the child choose a night-time lullaby that s/he can listen to if s/he wakes up in the middle of the night and needs some self-soothing methods!

  • When traveling, I often have a relaxation play list to listen to prior to sleep. I switch to my white noise playlist to help cover the less familiar noises of the night.

  • Hi Rachelle,

    Great topic!

    Another factor that may enhance the soothing effect of music as an aid to sleep is having someone who cares about you sing to you as part of a bedtime ritual. The voice and the music can then become associated with falling asleep and every time the ritual gets repeated the association becomes stronger in a neuronal entrainment process.

    Warmly,
    Andrea

    • Yes, Andrea, I love the idea of a musical ritual at bedtime. That’s why my husband sings the same song to my daughter every night. (Personally, I struggle with getting bored with the same song, even though I know that’s what is appropriate.) Thanks for the insight!

  • Ronnie

    Huh!

  • Angela

    I work with kids and “summer Fields” by Rudy Adrian!! Works wonders. Put on repeat at a low-med volume and kids sleep though until the music stops.

  • Claire

    Music does help me fall asleep. I find that music that I absolutely LOVE helps me fall asleep. Troye Sivan, and Jake Miller are HUGE keys that help me fall asleep. Even if they are loud and fast, I love them and they help me fall asleep.

Leave a Comment