How Relaxing Music Affects Sleep

Ayesha Azeem ‘23

MusicSleep
Figure 1. Many people use music to fight insomnia and other sleep-related problems.

Sleep is vital for maintaining physical and mental health and general well-being. However, our society often witnesses sleep disturbances, especially as we get older and in those who suffer from psychological disorders. However, many people, especially the elderly or those suffering from psychological disorders, experience sleep disturbances. Though some may use sleep-inducing medication, this may not be as effective as toleration can build over time and may lead to addiction. Thus, researchers are prioritizing the search for solutions to disturbed sleep without medication. 

Using music to improve sleep is common. According to an online survey, 62% of respondents reported using music at least once in their lives to help them sleepUsing a sample that consisted of over 500 people with sleep disorders, over 50% reported using music to help them sleep. Further, previous studies demonstrated that in older women, listening to music allowed participants to fall asleep quickly and remain asleep with better quality. However, these studies are based on subjective impressions and provide scarce objective information about sleep. This suggests that the subjective results may be due to suggestibility, or the inclination of humans to accept the suggestions of others where false but plausible information is given.

In this study, University of Fribourg’s Maren Jasmin Cordi and team tested whether listening to music as compared to a recorded audio before a nap would improve sleep quality in both high vs. low suggestible females. To measure sleep objectively, the psychologists used polysomnography, a machine that records brain waves, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, breathing, and movements during sleep to measure sleep quality. The music used in this study was a composition made for promoting sleep by Dr. Lee Bartel, named “Drifting into Delta.” Thirty-two healthy German women from ages 19-35 years were chosen to participate in this study. The women did not normally take naps, nor did they suffer from a sleep disorder. The subjects were asked to refrain from consuming caffeine and alcohol to avoid skewing the results. To induce subjectivity, the researchers explicitly informed the participants that the musical piece was specifically chosen to deepen sleep. The team also wanted to test the effect of altered sleep on cognitive performance, and administered memory tests before and after the nap. 

As expected, the results of the study demonstrated improvement in sleep quality when listening to music. Objectively, the polysomnography test proved that subjects spent less time transitioning to sleep (known as phase N1) when listening to music rather than spoken text. However, since the participants only took a midday nap and didn’t engage in a full night’s sleep, the study results were limited and could not discuss whether relaxing music affected REM sleep. Remarkably, low suggestive participants received a more restorative sleep than high suggestive subjects, who experienced no change at all in brain activity. This proves that those who were skeptical about the influence of music on sleep experienced more of a difference in sleeping patterns than those who were likely to accept the theory. The study also found that memory consolidation was significantly reduced after listening to music rather than the spoken text. 

Furthermore, the Switzerland-based study depicted how subjective sleep quality in healthy females’ naps can be improved by relaxing music. However, it is important to note that additional studies may be required to see the full extent to which music can improve sleep quality, as nighttime sleep was not tested. However, the results support that music is a non-pharmacological, low-risk and low-cost solution to improving sleep to some extent, though further study is necessary. 

 

References: 

  1. M. Cordi, et al.,Effects of relaxing music on healthy sleep. Scientific Reports, (2019). doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-45608-y
  2. Image retrieved from: https://www.needpix.com/photo/1412333/baby-newborn-girl-drum-drumsticks-music-flower-pink-purple

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