Can music help me fall asleep?

It is important to sleep sufficiently and restful. And after a long day full of stress and tension, it is often not so easy to find peace and quiet. Surely you know the feeling of tossing and turning from one side to the other for hours and simply not finding your way to sleep. The next day is a mess, you can hardly concentrate and are easily irritable. If such a situation becomes permanent, it can lead to serious health problems. In the long run, lack of sleep promotes diseases such as type II diabetes, overweight or depression. [1] That is why many people are looking for aids to help them fall asleep and sleep through the night better, even outside of conventional treatment methods.

One of these aids can be music. And all cultures in the world take advantage of its effects. Your parents probably sang a lullaby to you from time to time when it was time to go to bed. So music and sleep are also closely linked in our culture. How music can help you fall asleep and what kind of music is best suited for this purpose is explained in the following sections.

Difficulty falling asleep – a widespread problem

In a 2016 Statista survey, almost half of all men and almost 40 percent of women surveyed said that they often had trouble falling asleep. In the age group from 18 to 29 years, only 12 percent of those questioned claimed to have no sleep problems at all. 2] So a lot of people have to deal with the problem of not being able to sleep well or sleeping badly. The causes can be many and varied. Stress at work or in the family, loud neighbours, a cold or an uncomfortable mattress. Luxury foods like coffee, alcohol or medication can also have a negative effect on your sleep. [3]

The right atmosphere for restful sleep

Unfortunately there is no secret recipe for falling asleep. It is important to create an atmosphere in which you feel good and can relax. A comfortable mattress, the fresh smell of bedding, dimmed light, a comfortably furnished room, a pleasant background noise and many other factors together with your thoughts and feelings form the atmosphere. So you have many starting points that you can influence. [4]

Falling asleep correctly does not mean shutting yourself off from all stimuli in the best possible way. The psychologist Walter Hess discovered that sleep is also caused by the excitation of brain regions. So the right soundscape or music can both disturb and support you when falling asleep. [5]

Vigilant through sleep – Which noises bring us out of our calm?

People react with different sensitivities to stimuli from their environment. For example, many people claim that they sleep best with the TV on. Others, on the contrary, are very sensitive and let the slightest noise upset them. You should always be aware that your brain is constantly monitoring the sounds around you for possible danger, even when you are asleep. If a stimulus is considered dangerous, you will wake up briefly so that you can react if necessary. If this happens too often, your sleep will be less restful, even though you might not notice it yourself.

Of course, the line between noise and a pleasant background noise, in our case for example the right kind of sleeping music, is blurred. Nevertheless, some basic rules can be laid down. The background noise should be relatively quiet and without great fluctuations or irritation. For example, you might think that people can fall asleep reasonably well in front of the television, but they will not get a really restful sleep. [6]

Which music works best?

If you need help falling asleep, it is best not to use the television, but to listen to relaxation music. Here you can decide for yourself what music you listen to and how the melody develops. It’s best to choose quiet music with little dynamics and no or at least not very strong rhythmic elements. You can find a large selection of these on YouTube or Spotify, for example. If you don’t want to search for your own relaxation music, Spotify offers you ready-made playlists, such as the Sleep playlist, in which different pieces of music on the topic are compiled for you. Once you have downloaded such a playlist, you can access your sleep music on your mobile phone or computer without internet access.

But beware, if you associate negative memories with soothing music, it can also be a hindrance to falling asleep. You should not use your favourite music either. You will associate too many feelings with it. It stirs you up and prevents you from letting go and relaxing. [7]

What effect does music have on your body?

If you listen to soothing music, many effects can be observed on you when you fall asleep, but also in other situations. Calm music for falling asleep or meditation lowers your blood pressure, your pulse and breathing slow down and parts of your nervous system subconsciously affect your body and make you feel calmer. This is how you reach the first stage of sleep, a kind of transitional stage between waking and sleeping. As you fall asleep, you shut yourself off from your surroundings a little bit, but the activity in your brain is not reduced, it is just reorganised. Certain stimuli from your surroundings continue to be perceived. With sounds, it is not only the volume of the sound that matters, but also its quality. Even very quiet sounds can be considered dangerous and can lead to waking up. [8]

Music and sleep in science

There are many medical studies on how music affects us and our sleep patterns.  Positive effects have been shown in several trials on children, adults and the elderly. The researchers observed that the right music not only shortens the time it takes to fall asleep, but also reduces the short wake-up phases that occur throughout the night.

For example, researchers from the Beth Israel Medical Center studied whether music can replace the sleeping pill chlorohydrate, which is used to keep babies immobilised for the duration of medical examinations. The study also looked at creating an atmosphere of well-being for the babies. As a result, the music used was equally effective. Although the babies’ sleeping times were shorter than with chlorohydrate, they were completely adequate for the medical examinations. [9] Another study tested the effect of music on depressed patients when they fell asleep. The patients fell asleep much faster, but the music did not improve the depression. [10]

Music or radio play – what helps better?

Radio plays can help you relax, especially in the evening, but simple music is better for sleeping. In several trials, this kind of music had a much stronger effect than radio plays. [11] Radio plays or guided meditation can help you to relax before going to bed. sonamedic® offers a wide range of relaxation and meditation exercises that help you to free yourself from disturbing thoughts and come to rest.

Can music replace sleep medication?

Every person is different and so it is of course difficult to make clear statements. Several studies, like the one on chlorohydrate in children mentioned earlier, suggest that music can have a similar effect to sleeping pills. But at the very least, it is an additional means of strengthening a desired effect. The advantage of music, of course, is that it does not have any side effects, so if it is not successful, you can easily switch back to another form of therapy. [12]

Scientific sources

1) Norbert Lossau: Artikel: Welt.de, Zugriff am 23.08.2019. Online
2) Statista.com: Umfrage zu ausgewählten Problemen beim Einschlafen oder Schlafen in Deutschland nach Geschlecht im Jahr 2016, Zugriff am 20.08.2019. Online
3) Andreas-Blank-Koppenleitner: Apothekenumschau: Zugriff am 20.08.2019. Online
4) Julia Jung: Stimmungen weben. Eine unterrichtswissenschaftliche Studie zur Gestaltung von Atmosphären, 2018, Seite 11. Online
5) Veronika Reis, Diplomarbeit: Musik und Schlaf, 2013, Seite 7. Online
6) Veronika Reis, Diplomarbeit: Musik und Schlaf, 2013, Seite 35 – 36. Online
7) Veronika Reis, Diplomarbeit: Musik und Schlaf, 2013, Seite 41. Online
8) Veronika Reis, Diplomarbeit: Musik und Schlaf, 2013, Seite 10 – 12. Online
9) Lowley, J. / Hallan, C. / Friedman, E / Martinez, C. , Beth Israel Medical Center, NY 10003, USA, 2005, Sleep/sedation in children undergoing EEG testing: a comparison of chloral hydrate and music therapy. Online
10) Deshmukh, Abhijeet D / Sarvaya, Avani A. / Seethalakshmi, R./ Nayak, Ajita S.: Effect of Indian classical music on quality of sleep in depressed patients: A randomized controlled trial, 2009. Online
11) Veronika Reis, Diplomarbeit: Musik und Schlaf, 2013, Seite 53. Online
12) Veronika Reis, Diplomarbeit: Musik und Schlaf, 2013, Seite 51. Online

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