Tune In: How Listening to Music Before Bed Can Help You Sleep
We explore how music can help your sleep routine, talk about how music works on a physiological level to aid sleep, and come up with musical sleep tips for you to try on your own.
Music soothes the savage beast, the old saying goes. While you (hopefully) don’t have any savage beasts lying in wait in your bedroom, music is also just as frequently used to relax before bedtime, during that restful in between period as we drift off to sleep. The sleep world divides solidly into two camps: those who sleep well while listening to music or white noise, and those who don’t. It turns out that the difference between those two types of sleepers may be as old as sleep itself, and tied to our evolutionary biology.
There’s all sorts of theories as to why some music works better than others, but it’s only recently that science has found what actually flips our brains into airplane mode so that we can sleep better. It’s interesting that what can be an advantage to one sleeper can be a distraction for the next. That being said, sometimes there’s nothing better than music to put you in the mood for whatever you’re doing. So turn up some tunes, zone out, and read up on why sleeping could be the easiest way to train your brain back into good sleeping habits.
Song as Old as Rhyme – Why Noise Quiets the Brain
Our auditory system is set up as a first warning against intruders. Originally, when our ancestors were sleeping on the plains of ancient Africa, they had to be alert, even during sleep cycles so that predators couldn’t sneak up on the group. That means that not only do we hear while we sleep, our auditory nerves actually evaluate the TYPES of sounds that we are hearing.
The auditory system serves as a watchman, says Mathias Basner, an associate professor of Sleep and Chronobiology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, who studies the effects of ambient noise on sleep. “It never shuts down, constantly monitoring the environment looking for potential risks or dangers… it likely matters what sounds are being played while you’re trying to fall or stay asleep.”
Music is a way to short that feedback loop. When we play music, we soothe the auditory nerves, masking some of the sounds that can keep us awake — think a creaky house, or a dog barking, or a car backfiring at three am. In those cases, playing music actually smoothes over what our evolutionary impulses tell us, allowing us longer stretches of unbroken REM sleep.
How To Use Music in Your Sleep Routine
Good sleep hygiene is all about consistency and adding music to that routine is no exception. It’s all about creating a safe space for your body to feel like it can get the optimum amount of rest. Sleep scientists recommend repeating songs that are conducive to your sleep health.
“If you always play a James Taylor album to fall asleep, that could be part of your bedtime ritual, and it will help,” Dr. Basner says.
So the long and short of it is if you’re trying to fall asleep, but can’t — give music a try! The worst it could do is nothing, and the best it could do is get you asleep faster than you thought possible. Plus, maybe you’ll have dreams about playing guitar with T-Swift’s new touring band. Sounds like a win-win!