If you love music, you already know that it can enlighten, inspire, energize, and shake you out of a bad mood. But did you know that it can also help you sleep? Plenty of people use music to help themselves get a good night’s rest, and there’s a great deal of research to back up this popular practice.
During sleep, though you’re not consciously aware of it, you’re actually listening to what’s around you. When you think about it, this makes a lot of evolutionary sense—with your eyes shut, it’s the only way your body can become aware of threats in your environment. While this can be somewhat of an annoyance for light sleepers, it has a wonderful upshot: you can actually intervene on the quality of your sleep with carefully chosen tunes.
The relationship between music and sleep quality has been studied extensively, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. From infants to elderly adults, music has been shown to have positive effects on sleep quality from the moment you hit your pillow to when you open your eyes. First, music seems to decrease sleep latency, or the time it takes you to fall asleep. That’s because it can reduce "psychological pre-sleep arousal," or in layperson’s terms, the nagging mental chatter that keeps you from falling asleep. In people who are frustrated or depressed by their sleep problems, music seems to counter negative emotions around bedtime, which actually makes it easier for them to fall and stay asleep.
Certain types of music played throughout the night seem to increase the quantity of slow-wave sleep (SWS), a stage that’s been implicated in helping you encode memories and flush Alzheimer’s-related brain chemicals, among other things. Music seems to be better than audiobooks and silence at promoting sleep, and studies on at-risk groups like traumatized refugees and infants in neonatal intensive care report improved sleep quality across the board.
Here’s the catch: It’s highly unlikely that your favourite Guns N’ Roses record will help you sleep better (though we’d certainly recommend it to amp up your morning). Studies that report improved sleep quality from music typically use slow, relaxing tunes, whether classical or electronic (the study on SWS cited above uses music specifically composed to aid sleep). A helpful rule of thumb is to stick to music around or below 60 beats-per-minute, without words, and without strong emotional associations. Best to put away the Metallica and tear-soaked list of your ex’s favourites for another time. Another caveat is the way you listen to music—if at all possible, avoid headphones and ear buds, which may damage your ear canal as you roll around. Play music at a soft volume near your bed, or invest in a snazzy sleep-listening device, like a music pillow or eye mask (a quick Google search will bring up a variety of options).
Stay tuned to the Sleep Centre blog, because next week we’ll release a list of beautiful Regal-approved songs to help you get some shut-eye.