- Listening to music in order to fall asleep is a common practice that many people find helpful.
- Researchers analyzed close to 1,000 music playlists on Spotify intended to induce sleep.
- Many playlists were filled with energetic tracks not typically associated with sleep.
You might be hard-pressed to find any commonalities between the children’s lullaby “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the k-pop hit “Dynamite” by BTS.
It turns out both songs are commonly used to help people fall asleep. Surprised? So were the researchers, whose findings were published today in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
Using music to fall asleep is common
The researchers cited previous studies indicating that close to half of people interviewed use music to help them fall asleep. However, despite how common the practice is, there’s been little detailed research on what types of music people are actually listening to for this purpose.
In this study, researchers reviewed data from the audio streaming service Spotify to determine what types of music people listen to fall asleep. While the data was anonymized, researchers noted that Spotify is used in 92 countries and that people of all ages use music streaming services. They believe this lends their study the most global look into sleep music yet.
What ‘sleep music’ was the most popular
To perform their analysis, the researchers first assembled a list of all playlists featuring any variation of the word “sleep” in any language and then removed results that weren’t music (such as podcasts or nature sounds), weren’t intended for sleep (such as band names including the word “sleep”), or had fewer than 100 followers.
This left them with 986 playlists, including 130,150 unique tracks. The researchers then statistically analyzed these tracks, grouping them into clusters based on their characteristics, such as tempo, loudness, and energy. The largest cluster by far consisted of ambient tracks, which was what researchers expected to find.
But other large clusters were filled with contemporary radio tracks, including pop hits and indie tracks. Previous self-reported studies found that classical and instrumental music were among the most used genres for sleep music. Researchers reported that a surprising result of the new study was that both genres had fewer occurrences than either pop or rap.
Possible explanations for selections of sleeping music
“The human brain is a pattern recognizer and really enjoys getting it right,” said Dr. Alex Dimitriu, double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and \the founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in California and BrainfoodMD.
According to Dimitriu, songs that are highly danceable or energetic could in fact help someone fall asleep under the right conditions. “It is likely that these songs were still structured, symmetrical, and predictable, without loud transitions, or sudden changes in tempo or intensity,” Dimitriu told Healthline.
To have a better chance of sleeping to energetic tracks, it also helps if you’re familiar with the songs. “Novelty is also what keeps the brain awake. Music, whether fast or slow, likely needs [a] lack of ‘newness,’ or surprises, to help sleep,” said Dimitriu.
Dr. Kuljeet (Kelly) Gill, a sleep medicine physician at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Illinois, told Healthline that “It’s not surprising people use music to sleep because sleep issues are such an extremely common problem and music can be calming.”
It’s not a music’s danceability, necessarily, that determines whether someone might be able to fall asleep listening to it. “The difference is whether the music is very emotional, or triggers emotion. For some people, upbeat music might be calming,” said Gill.
Using music for sleep
A lot of people use music to help them fall asleep, but is it a good idea? “Music is great for falling asleep, as long as it is not too exciting,” said Dimitriu.
“Among all the things people try to sleep, music is among the best. It gets people into bed (hopefully earlier) and into a relaxed, contemplative, and even meditative mindset. Music can also be listened to in low light, which is another plus for deep sleep,” Dimitriu added.
In order to have healthy sleep after listening to music, Dimitriu recommended:
- not wearing headphones that would then have to be removed or could result in getting tangled in a cord.
- using a sleep timer to automatically turn off the music.
- following general practices for good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding screen time before bed and going to bed at the same time every night.
“The most important part of sleep is a very strict sleep-wake schedule. It sounds simple and obvious, but it’s not as easy to implement. Weekends, days off—keeping that very strict schedule is a very important part of training ourselves to sleep well,” said Gill.
“Having a sleep routine can include a signal — at the same time every day — to go to sleep. Music can be that signal,” she added.
By David Rossiaky