Using music to improve your sleep

The world is in the grip of a quiet sleep crisis. During the day, we’re bombarded by a range of stresses and stimuli, which stay with us long into the evening, and disrupt our sleep.

Screen time, shift work, caffeinated drinks: they all get in the way of a good night’s rest. The consequences of this can be disastrous; a lack of sleep has been linked with a whole range of diseases and health problems, from weight gain to cancer.

Getting on top of your sleep involves doing lots of separate things. Among the measures we might consider, however, there’s one that might be slightly surprising: listening to music.

The science behind it

The music we listen to can have a powerful effect on our bodies. If you’ve ever felt your pulse race while listening to high-energy dance or rock music, then you’ll understand this. At the other end of the spectrum, low-energy music can be used to slow our heart rate and drive down blood pressure and cortisol levels, too.

The production of cortisol tends to drive down the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This is because our bodies are adapted to keep us awake when we’re under stress. Music has also been shown to aid dopamine production – which can help us to get over physical pain. Where we’re suffering with physical pain that keeps us awake, this can be very helpful.

Choosing the right music

So, what sort of music is appropriate? You might immediately think of Enya, or very slow ambient or new-age music. But this needn’t be the go-to option. If you prefer music that’s slightly more uptempo, then there’s reason to suppose that this might be just as effective. What matters is that the music is familiar and reassuring. For this reason, many people like to listen to soundtrack music from television, film and video games.


Headphones that sit inside your ear are probably unsuitable for sleep. They can cause hearing loss and ear infections, since they’ll prevent the air from circulating inside your ears for an extended period. Go for over-ear headphones instead, or loudspeakers.

You might bring music into your bedroom via a digital streaming service, or you might use a vinyl record player for that reassuring analogue sound.

Setting the mood

It’s worth making mention of some of the other things that tend to promote good sleep. Many of them will help to support the work that your music is doing. Keep the room dark and cool, and avoid screen time for around an hour before you settle in for the night. Keep your bedtime routine consistent, going to sleep at the same time every night.