By Bob Barnett
The Rumor: Music can help you sleep
Most of us have nodded off to a relaxing tune before, but what if you purposefully listened to music when you went to bed? Could it help you sleep?
The Verdict: Certain music may indeed help you catch better Z's
“Yes, there is data that suggests that music can help people fall asleep,” says Michael Breus, Ph.D., upwave sleep expert and author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan: Simple Rules for Losing Weight While You Sleep. But the kind of music you choose makes a difference. Music that has a relatively slow beat may help your body hit its internal snooze button. “If you play Guns 'N Roses, chances are low that it will put you to sleep,” says Breus.
The music-sleep connection has been supported in studies all over the world. It works in young people and elderly men and women. Heck, music even helps people with schizophrenia get some shut-eye. A recent meta-analysis of music-sleep studies focusing on 10 high-quality studies found that music helps people with both short-term and chronic sleep problems.
In a typical study, people listen to relaxing tunes (such as classical music) for about 45 minutes before they head off to bed. Several studies have found that the music’s tempo makes a difference. “Reputable studies find that music with a rhythm of about 60 beats a minute helps people fall asleep,” says Breus. “As you are falling asleep, your heart rate begins to slow, and starts to move toward that 60-beats-per-minute range.” In other words, slow music “tunes” your heartbeat toward the sleep zone. You can even buy CDs or download tunes from Bedtime Beats set to the 60-beats-per-minute ideal.
Not a classical music fan? That’s fine. The Marconi Union song "Weightless" -- which is allegedly the "most relaxing song ever created" -- also clocks in at 60 beats per minute. Some find Joni Mitchell’s “Blue Room Hotel” or Miles Davis’s “Blue in Green” to be sleep-inducing. “The better choice is often music with no words,” notes Breus. Steer clear of anything that evokes strong emotions, as well -- regardless of whether they're positive or negative. “Don’t listen to that mix tape that your old girlfriend once gave you,” Breus advises.
It’s fine to fall asleep listening to music, Breus says, but don’t wear earbuds or headphones to bed. They can be uncomfortable, and if you roll over wearing earbuds, you could hurt your ear canal. Instead, he recommends pillow speakers. These devices are exactly what they sound like: pillows with speakers inside them. They come in a variety of sizes and price ranges, but they're all designed to allow you to comfortably listen to music in bed.
“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast / To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak,” wrote English playwright William Congreve. If you pick a nice, slow tune that doesn’t rev you up emotionally, music may even help you get a good night’s sleep.