A toddler wakes up in the middle of the night, screaming that they had a nightmare. Their mother tries to convince them to go back to sleep. But the toddler refuses, petrified the boogeyman will get them the second they close their eyes. So, the mother gently sings her child a lullaby until they drop back to dreamland.
In those moments, we can’t help but champion the power of music, especially where it pertains to sleep. But what exactly is music’s role in our nighttime slumber? And is that role always positive? Let’s take a closer look at this idea as we answer the question: Can music impact the quality of your sleep?
Music Can Help You Fall Asleep
As we saw with the nightmare-plagued toddler, music can help kids fall asleep at night. But according to one study, music can help grownups too. This is related to music’s power to sway our emotions.
When we listen to music, our bodies produce lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol while increasing the production of the hormone dopamine. Dopamine helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle, reduce pain, and make us feel good. More dopamine and less cortisol create a better headspace for sleep.
…But It Can Disrupt Your Sleep, Too
Most of us are familiar with the experience of an earworm or having a song stuck in our heads. (This happens to me ALL the time!) You hear a word, phrase, or melody that reminds you of a song and the next thing you know, you spend the rest of the afternoon singing “Never Gonna Give You Up.” This can negatively impact your sleep.
If you listen to a catchy song right before bed, your brain will continue to process the song even as you sleep. If the song is catchy enough, it may wake you up in the middle of the night. These earworms can diminish your overall sleep quality.
How Music Style Impacts Sleep
Clearly, some songs are better for sleep than others, and the key is the style of music. Songs with slower tempos—around 60 beats per minute or slower—and relaxing melodies are the best. Mellow electronic, new age, and classical songs work well for this, but any genre with those traits will do.
On the other hand, upbeat songs tend to make us more alert than relaxed, especially if they lead to the dreaded earworm. Traits that make a song an earworm include:
- Fast tempo
- Easily recognizable melody
- Unusual musical intervals
If a song has been one of the most played on the radio at any point in history, chances are it won’t make a good song for you to play while you’re trying to sleep.
How To Use Music for Sleep
Once you know how music can impact your sleep, you can use music to your advantage to create the ideal sleeping environment.The easiest way to do this is to pick slow, gentle songs with smooth melodies, listening to them at lower volumes and avoiding catchy tunes. Before you know it, you’ll be sleeping like a baby.