I will discuss what my data shows, how easy or difficult I found this strategy to implement, and what previous research says. These three factors will be combined for an overall score and grade on how effective music can be for improving sleep.
HOW COULD MUSIC IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?
For most people, listening to some form of music is a very positive experience. The type of music and the way that they listen to it varies a lot from person to person, but it really can help people to feel more energised, perform better at work, in sport or at the gym. High tempo music is excellent for that, and I couldn’t imagine how different an F45 session would feel without dance, pop or hip-hop music pumping out of the speakers.
At the other end of the spectrum, slow, relaxing music, instrumental music and nature sounds have been generally connected with calming feelings and environments. I know a few people personally who swear by listening to classical music while they are writing or studying. A look at the favourite playlists on Spotify at night time also indicates that classical and piano music is utilised by a lot of people to try and wind down and relax at night in the hope of getting a better night’s sleep.
For the first week, I listened to classical or instrumental music (no vocals) for 30-minutes before bed for the first four nights and then switched to calming music involving lyrics for the next three nights. I did not listen to any music in bed.
For the second week, I did not listen to any music before bed, but used white noise in bed with a 30-minute timer for the first three nights (a setting on the relax melodies app), and listened to nature sounds using the relax melodies app in bed with a 30-minute time for the next four nights.
Let’s see which strategy had the best impact on my sleep for the two weeks…
Comparison: Classical Music vs Lyrical Music vs White Noise vs Relaxing Melodies
Based on my sleep diary data, the findings were as follows:
- The number of awakenings:
- Lyrical music – 0.33 per night
- White noise – 1 per night
- Nature sounds – 1.25 per night
- Classical music – 1.25 per night
- less is better
- Time in bed:
- Lyrical music – 7 hours 55 minutes
- Nature sounds – 8 hours 25 minutes
- White noise – 7 hours 27 minutes
- Classical music – 7 hours 25 minutes
- 8 hours is ideal for me
- Time to bed:
- Classical music – 11:01 pm
- White noise – 10:50 pm
- Nature sounds – 10:11pm
- Lyrical music – 9:55pm
- 11:30pm is ideal for me
- Total sleep time:
- Lyrical music – 7 hours 38 minutes
- Nature sounds – 7 hours 55 minutes
- Classical music – 7 hours 00 minutes
- White noise – 6 hours 54 minutes
- 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
- Sleep onset latency:
- Classical music – 8.75 minutes
- Nature sounds – 8.75 minutes
- Lyrical music – 10 minutes
- White noise – 20 minutes
- quicker is better
- Wake after sleep onset:
- Lyrical music – 6.67 minutes
- White noise – 13.33 minutes
- Classical music – 16.65 minutes
- Nature sounds – 21.67 minutes
- less is better
- Rise time:
- Nature sounds – 6:36 am
- Classical music – 6:26 am
- White noise – 6:17 am
- Lyrical music – 5:50am
- 7:30am is ideal for me
- Sleep quality:
- Lyrical music – 4.67/5
- Nature sounds – 4.5/5
- White noise – 4.33/5
- Classical music – 4/5
- more is better
- Sleep efficiency:
- Lyrical music – 96.49%
- Classical music – 94.38%
- Nature sounds – 93.48%
- White noise – 92.54%
- higher is better
AND THE WINNER IS…
With a count of 6 points for lyrical music, 2 for classical music, 1 for nature sounds, and 0 for white noise, listening to lyrical music that I found relaxing for 30 minutes before bed was the best overall strategy for my sleep, with better sleep efficiency, sleep quality, more sleep, less awakenings and less time awake during the night.
The worst strategy was listening to white noise for 30-minutes in bed. This makes sense, as I found it the most annoying one to try, but I had heard some good things from other people, so I’m glad I gave it a go. Listening to nature sounds in bed was more effective than white noise for helping me get off to sleep and sleeping longer each night.
IS LISTENING TO MUSIC A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?
IS IT EFFECTIVE?
Yes, I believe so. Listening to relaxing lyrical music before bed led to an excellent sleep quality of 4.67/5 and a sleep efficiency of 96.49%. Classical music before bed led to worse sleep quality, maybe because of the lack of words which led to more space for me to think about things. It still wasn’t too bad though, and listening to nature sounds in bed was good also. White noise was not too helpful for me.
I, therefore, give the effectiveness of this strategy a 20/25.
CAN IT BE APPLIED?
Easily. If you have a smartphone, computer or cd player, you can listen to music either before bed or in bed. In bed, it may be harder to listen, especially if you have a partner who doesn’t want you to listen to something. Headphones could help in these situations, and I used to do this quite a bit back when I travelled the world for 8 months back in 2009. It doubled as a noise blocker in the various hostels we stayed in.
I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy an 18/25.
IS IT SCIENTIFIC?
A 2008 study showed that 45-minutes of listening to classical music at bedtime for 3-weeks led to significantly improved sleep quality. This also led to a significant drop in depressive symptoms across the 3 weeks. Groups who listened to 45-minutes of audiobooks at bedtime did not show the same statistical improvements in sleep and depression severity (Harmat, Takacs & Bodizs, 2008).
A Taiwanese study found similar improvements in older adults (aged 60-83) across 3 weeks (Lai & Good, 2006). Five types of Western music and a kind of Chinese music were compared, 45-minutes of all kinds of music at bedtime led to better sleep quality, sleep efficiency, longer sleep, and less dysfunction during the day. More encouragingly, sleep kept improving with each week of treatment, indicating increasing effectiveness with time (Lai & Good, 2006).
A more recent study also found that 2-weeks of listening to music at home led to better sleep quality, stress and anxiety in 61 pregnant women in comparison to a control group (Yu-Hsiang, ChihChen, Chen-Hsiang & Chung-Hey, 2016).
I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 35/50.
Overall, using music as a way to wind down and sleep better gets a score of 20/25 + 18/25 + 35/50 =
WHAT I RECOMMEND
Listening to music before bed could help if you find this an effective way to relax and wind down at night. It could also help to listen to it in bed for the first 30-45 minutes of the night, as this may help you to keep your mind off your worries, help your arousal levels remain low, and help you to have a better quality of sleep.
If you are interested, try what I have, and experiment with different types of music, both before bed and in bed, and see what helps you to have a better night’s sleep. If none of them helps, just move on to a different strategy. What works for you may be different to everyone else. The key is to see if it helps you to stay relaxed and calm at night time. If it does, go to bed once you are sleepy, then allow sleep to come. The more you try to force sleep, the less likely it is to occur.
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