Music has the power to transform our moods. There are symphonies that keep us focused during long workdays, banging singles that pump us up to perform during our workouts, and love songs that set the mood for romantic dinners.
It's probably no surprise that music should also be a part of our bedtime routines. Research shows that people experiencing insomnia fall asleep faster and have better sleep quality when they listen to music. Another study found that students who listened to 45 minutes of classical music at bedtime had better sleep than those who listened to an audiobook or stayed in silence.
The power of music for sleep isn’t surprising to experts. “Relaxing music can slow your heart rate and your breathing and lower your blood pressure—all things that help you fall asleep and stay asleep,” says Michael Breus, PhD, diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and author of “The Power of When.” There is also the impact it can have on our minds.
“Music can be really powerful because it gives you something to focus on other than the fact that you’re lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, and you can’t,” says W. Christopher Winter, MD, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of The Sleep Solution. “It takes you away from your thoughts and worries.”
How to Use Music for Sleep
To make the most of your pre-bedtime musical moment, you’re going to want to keep a few things in mind. The big one is to choose music that’s on the slower side—Breus recommends between 60 and 80 beats per minute. (This free song BPM tool can help.)
“Bedtime is not the time to listen to up-tempo songs," he says. “Save those for when you want to wake up in the morning.” Breus is also a fan of leaving lyrics out of it. “Sticking to instrumentals means you aren’t trying to follow along with the words,” he says. “It helps your brain rest better.”
Beyond that, you should feel free to pick something that you enjoy the sound of. “I like the idea of listening to something you’ve heard before,” says Winter. “You won’t focus as much on the song because you already know it.”
Be sure to avoid tracks that might trigger negative emotions. (You know, like that song you listened to on repeat after a particularly rough breakup.) Nobody is going to feel ready to sleep if they are being transported to a super emotional time in their lives.
Some other best practices experts recommend:
- Don’t use earbuds. They can be uncomfortable when you rest your head on your pillow.
- Make sure your other notifications are turned off if you’re listening on your phone. Nobody needs to hear an email alert go off at midnight.
- Start playing sleepy songs about 30 to 45 minutes before you want to be asleep. This gives the music time to work its magic.
- Pick a playlist that lasts about 90 minutes. That way you don’t wake up at 3a.m. still hearing the music playing.
Finally, if sleep music doesn’t put you to sleep quickly the first night, don’t give up. “Research suggests the impact of listening to music as you fall asleep can get stronger over time,” says Breus.
Make it a part of your bedtime ritual and, over the course of a few weeks, you may find the music begins to become a soothing lullaby, calming you into slumber.
Some Sleep Music to Get You Started
Ready to let the rhythm transport you to dreamland? Here are some of the most recommended tunes to help you feel sleepy—all can be found for free online:
1. “Weightless” by Marconi Union
Fun fact: The band worked with sound therapists to nail the relaxing nature of this tune.
2. “Watermark” by Enya
You know there’s no way Enya would be left off this list.
3. “We Can Fly” by Rue du Soleil
This is the kind of song that plays at every serene spa in the world.
4. “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy
The name of this piano piece means moonlight in French, making it the perfect song for sleep.
5. “Canzonetta Sull’aria” by Mozart
While this song does have words, the singing in this opera is so delicate it won’t be a distraction.
How to listen: YouTube
6. “Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2” by Chopin
This is the most lovely piano piece ever created.
How to listen: YouTube, Spotify
7. “Electra” by Airstream
It’s a little more modern than some of the other songs on this list, but just as relaxing.
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