Music Can Improve Sleep Quality

Can music be the secret to a good night’s sleep? The research says ‘yes’: slow, soothing rhythms can rock us into a relaxed state that invites sleep – a far better approach to taking a potentially addictive sleeping pill.

About one-third of our life is spent sleeping. Restful sleep restores our mind, body and spiritual well-being. However, statistics show that only 50% of people wake feeling really refreshed after a night’s sleep. Up to 44% of people have trouble falling asleep, and 48% wake up at night.

Sleep disturbance usually results from bio-chemical or environmental influences. Sleep is not only a state of consciousness; it is also a state of altered body chemistry. We wake when the brain secretes chemicals that counteract the ones that keep us asleep.

Relaxing music is effective in reducing sleeping problems, because it improves both the duration and the quality of sleep.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON’T SLEEP?

Sleep disorders result in fatigue, tiredness, depression and problems in daytime functioning – in fact, losing sleep may actually shrink some areas of the brain. Lack of restful sleep also accelerates ageing. Restful sleep, on the other hand, accelerates healing and enlivens renewal.

CAUSES OF INSOMNIA

Negative feelings or unresolved conflict commonly lead to sleep problems. We don’t fall asleep because our thoughts keep us awake. It’s worth remembering that worry and anxiety are nothing but negative thoughts about something that has already occurred, or that might occur in the future – but usually does not! Sometimes, of course, happy thoughts or the anticipation of something positive keeps us awake.

It can help a lot to talk to someone who understands, and both your family doctor and supportive friends can play a role. Try to free yourself from negative and destructive thoughts and to go to sleep with no worry or concern, but rather peace and contentment.

Insomnia can also result from changes in sleep routine. Rhythms of activity are present in all living cells, plants and animals, and it is only recently that we have realised how much they influence human lives. This is why shift workers can suffer from insomnia, and feel irritable and bad-tempered while awake. It is best to start and end sleep at the same time every day, and to follow a set routine before bedtime.

When to seek professional help

If you’ve had sleep problems for at least a month, natural remedies did not result in any change, and your insomnia is causing significant distress and affecting your daytime social and work activities, you need to seek help.

MUSIC AND SLEEP

The easy way to get a night’s sleep is to take medicine. However, this alters the natural stages of sleep, has daytime residual effects, and can result in dependence. Sleeping pills often dull our senses.

Music is a non-pharmacological way to help improve the quality of sleep. A clinical study suggests that soothing and classical music has positive effects on sleep by helping relax the muscles and distract the mind from worrying thoughts.1 Other studies in which music has helped treat sleep disturbances have included a wide age spectrum, from preschool children to young students and older people, and even patients undergoing coronary artery bypass graft surgery.

Listening to slow-tempo music has been found to affect the circulation of norepinephrine, which is related to sleep onset;2 this means that music may help us sleep via a reduction in sympathetic nervous activity.

In summary, music both relaxes and distracts. It decreases sympathetic nervous system activity, anxiety, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. Slow, meditative music has a particularly relaxing effect.

SLEEP RITUALS

Bedtime rituals promote good and restful sleep.

  • It is helpful to download your mind, if it is very active, by writing in a journal.
  • Read inspirational and spiritual books before going to sleep. Avoid negative media material like newspapers.
  • A warm pack on your tummy, in the area of the solar plexus, will calm your body and mind.
  • Drink a cup of warm milk or chamomile tea.
  • Use lavender or sandalwood essential oil in your bath, or put a drop on your pillow.
  • Reduce light and noise pollution. Streetlights may disturb sleep, so use heavy curtains or dark blinds. Switch off lights in the house, and use ear plugs.

ADDING MUSIC TO YOUR SLEEP ROUTINE

First, listen to soft, slow-tempo music for 45 minutes before going to sleep. If you wake in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, try sitting in a comfortable chair, or a reclining chair with a neck cushion and blanket – it’s often easier to drift off in a slightly upright position. Listen to the same music as before going to sleep (but with earphones, so as not to disturb the rest of the family). Two of my patients, who suffer from severe insomnia, have found that this works well, and they are asleep again before the music finishes. People often find that they stop waking at night after three weeks or so of using this method.

‘BRAIN music’

Levin examined the effects of ‘brain music’ in the treatment of 58 patients suffering from in- somnia.3 Brain music is basically transformation of the spontaneous bio-electrical activity of a person’s brain into music. These tiny electrical signals were recorded on an EEG, and a special algorithm on the computer turned them into music. The patients listened to their own brain music before going to sleep, and sleep quality and duration in the treatment group improved significantly.

Music to consider listening to

Largo tempo music:

  • Handel: Largo from Serse
  • Telemann: Viola Concerto in G Major – Largo
  • J S Bach: Piano Concerto in F Minor, BWV 1056 – Largo
  • Handel: Concerto Grosso in A Minor, Op 6, No. 4 – Largo, e piano
  • J S Bach: Double Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1043 – Largo ma non tanto
  • Handel: Concerto Grosso in D Major, Op 6, No 5 – Largo
  • Vivaldi: Flautino Concerto in C Major, RV 443 – Largo
  • Handel: Concerto in Grosso in B Minor, Op 6, No 12 – Largo
  • Naxos: Largo – Famous Largos. Item Code: 8.550950

References

  1. Lai LH, Good M. Music improves sleep quality in older adults. J Adv Nurs 2006; 49(3): 234-244.
  2. Möckel M, et al. Immediate physiological responses of healthy volunteers to different types of music: hormonal and mental changes. Eur J Appl Physiol 1994; 68: 451-459.
  3. Levin Y. ‘Brain music’ in the treatment of patients with insomnia.
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Music Can Improve Sleep Quality

Dr Frances le Roux
About The Author
- BSC, MSC, PHD. She is a registered physiotherapist in Fish Hoek, Cape Town, South Africa. She has a special interest in music/medicine based on her research regarding music and pain, immune systems and spiritual well-being. She is a member of the International Music in Medicine Association and is on the International Editorial Board of Music and Medicine Interdisciplinary Journal. Her books Music is Healing and recently published Music and Babies are available from: adagio.frances@absamail.co.za