Soothing Sounds: How Music Helps Us Sleep
There’s no denying that sounds and music can affect our bodies by relaxing and calming us. Our brains love music because it is made up of rhythms and our bodies are rhythmic; our sleeping, breathing, eating, and digesting all function through a rhythmic cycle.
Close your eyes and imagine the sounds of a babbling brook, birds chirping, the rush of ocean waves, or a softly playing soundtrack of classical music. There’s no denying that sounds and music can affect our bodies by relaxing and calming us.
There’s even science to back it up; these soothing sounds can actually change our brainwaves and stress hormone levels. Most people don’t do too well when sleeping in complete silence; while a white noise machine can do the trick, you may prefer music or nature noises to get better rest.
Let’s dive into how music helps to calm us down and improve our sleep, and how you can create the ideal peaceful environment to drift off to dreamland. With a weighted blanket and the right music cues, you’ll be drifting off in no time.
Music and sleep: The science
The power of music to tell stories, evoke different moods and emotions, and bond friends and family has been around for as long as humans have lived. We can feel immediately happy when a favorite upbeat jam comes on the radio or we can feel a little sad when a song is slow and melancholic.
While you may not have thought too much about how music can help you sleep, using sound therapy for stress relief and relaxation has been around for generations, especially in indigenous cultures. Although centuries old, so-called ‘sound baths’ are now popping up all over major cities, which involve sessions in specialized studios in which sound therapists play various ambient noises to produce a meditative state.
Soothing sounds contribute to sleep and relaxation by reducing stress hormones, like cortisol, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, and slowing your breathing. All of these involve activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our “rest and digest” system while suppressing our sympathetic nervous system (our “fight or flight” mode).
Music works to lull us to sleep by changing our brainwaves, which are essentially little electrical pulses that are firing between our neurons. Research has found that music of 60 beats per minute can lead to changes in our brain, with a favoring towards alpha brainwaves. These types of brainwaves are working when our brains are in a state of ‘wakeful rest’, which is when we are relaxed but still conscious. When we’re fully sleeping, our brains are generating delta and theta brainwaves.
One study looked at college students with sleep issues and split them up into three groups: one listened to classical music at bedtime, the second group listened to an audiobook, and the third didn’t listen to anything. After 3 weeks, the classical music group showed significant improvements in sleep quality (as well as symptoms of depression), indicating that gentle music before bed can be an easy intervention for both mental health concerns and sleep disorders.
The top soothing sounds for sleep
Since we don’t often choose our music by beats per minute, the most relaxing sounds can vary from person to person. If you prefer noises of nature, a sound machine where you can switch between hearing the ocean, rainfall, or gentle winds blowing may be right for you. Another option is as easy as the push of a button - several smartphone apps have options to play either nature noises or soothing music, like Calm or Headspace, or you can stream soothing playlists from music services like Spotify or Apple Music.
An interesting study done by neuroscientists in the U.K. found that the song “Weightless” by Marconi Union was dubbed the most “Relaxing Song on Earth”. After listening to the 8-minute song, study participants saw a 65% reduction in overall anxiety and a 35% reduction in physiological resting states (like heart rate, pulse, and blood pressure). Download the song to keep on your phone and listen to it while you’re trying to fall asleep and see if it does the trick!
Other types of music that have been shown to reduce stress and help promote relaxation include Native American, Celtic, or Indian music that uses stringed instruments, drums, and flutes, as well as light jazz or classical music.
Peaceful sleeping environment
Creating a soothing sleep environment can go far beyond the music or sounds you listen to. In addition to sound, using sight, smells, and comforting touch can also help us to wind down for bed. In the hour or two before you’re trying to snooze, try to keep the artificial bright lights in your house to a minimum. Instead, opt for amber-colored lights or candlelight to create a soft ambiance that won’t suppress your melatonin production.
Next, smells and scents can also create a restful and relaxing environment, which can be from the aforementioned candles or from organic essential oils diffusing near your bed. Lastly, when we’re talking about using a comforting touch to relax, our cozy weighted blankets provide you with the feeling of a warm hug while further helping your parasympathetic nervous system to engage.
Our Nappers are designed to reduce cortisol levels while simultaneously increasing serotonin production, which, in turn, increases melatonin production. All of these hormonal shifts sends the signal to our bodies and brains that it’s time to relax for bed. Combine all of these relaxing sensory experiences with the nature noises or music that you prefer, and you’ll be dozing off faster than you’d ever imagined. Sweet dreams!
• Music has been used for centuries to envoke various emotions, relieve stress, and even play a part in ancient healing rituals and ceremonies.
• Sounds of certain tones or beats per minute can switch our nervous systems from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic states, which leads to reduced cortisol, blood pressure, heart rate, and pulse, which can relax us and get us ready to sleep.
• For sleeping, the best soothing sounds are nature noises, classical music, Native American or Celtic music with drums and flutes, and dreamy ambient noises.
Did you know?
In ancient times, Greek doctors would use flutes and lyres as healing modalities for sick patients, as well as vibrations to induce sleep and even help with digestion.