One thing all humans need is sleep. You cannot deny this fact for long. Maybe you decide that you don’t have time to sleep and would rather stay up to work or party. Maybe caregiving responsibilities keep you up at night, when an infant starts crying or a senior with dementia starts wandering around the house. Maybe pain or anxiety or bad dreams or who-knows-what keeps you from falling asleep or staying asleep. Eventually, you hit a wall and face the truth:
You have to sleep.
So what if you have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep? What if your available time is so limited that you don’t get ideal circumstances – you have to sleep when it’s daylight outside and the neighbors are mowing the lawn, or you can only catch a few hours while your friend spends time with your mom who has dementia? What can you do to get the sleep you need?
Sleep is a huge topic among health professionals, and there are many ways to improve your sleep. Music is one of the factors that can improve the length and quality of your sleep. In fact, research evidence has pointed towards ways that music can improve sleep in hospitals and nursing homes, and for people who have pain or other medical conditions.
How does music help?
Here are a few possibilities:
- Music raises the noise floor. We tend to be more bothered by sudden loud sounds, those that are a certain amount louder than the ambient noise in our environment. That’s why whispers and cell phone rings are so much more distracting in the library than at the bus stop. Adding music to the environment raises the “noise floor” so that the sudden sounds aren’t as distracting. Sometimes called masking, this use of music works well in hospitals and nursing homes where there can be a lot of excess noise from health care workers, alarms and chimes, medical equipment, etc. It works well in a noisy home environment, too.
- Music is better organized. In other words, music is regular and rhythmic, while other sounds – your family TV, the traffic outside, or the dishwasher – are irregular and more jarring. Our bodies tend to sync up with the dominant sound stimuli around us, in a process known as entrainment.
- Music can be pleasant. Would you rather listen to your neighbor revving his engine or your favorite Bach Sonata or Enya track? Yeah, I thought so. It is important, though, to choose music that works well for YOU – music in a style you like that doesn’t bring up bad memories or uncomfortable feelings. You can read more about choosing music for relaxation here.
- Music pairs well with relaxation exercises. Speaking of relaxation, we know that music is a great support for relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and imagery.
Yes, music can be very helpful in supporting sleep, but it’s important to know that music can interfere with sleep, too. Keep this in mind:
- Music is stimulating and adds to the noise. Over-stimulation can be harmful, increasing agitation and preventing sleep. It is not okay to play music constantly instead of doing your best to decrease the noise in the environment.
- Music can be right for some people and wrong for others. The music must fit the situation and the person, and it’s important to choose music that the person likes (see above).
- Music does not replace other good sleep hygiene habits. That means you still need to reduce caffeine and alcohol intake, keep the lights low in the evening, aim for a regular sleep schedule, and use your bed only for sleeping and sex. All of that advice still applies!
Have you tried using music to help you sleep? What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked so well? Please leave a comment below!