We all know the power of music. It can make you cry. It can make you laugh. It can make you workout harder and focus better. Is there anything it can’t do? Okay, sure, it can’t make you dinner or fold your laundry – but it can do something that makes everything better: help you get some sweet, healthy shuteye. Just like the lullabies we’ve been using for our wee ones’ bedtimes for thousands of years, music can help adults fall asleep faster and sleep better. Research from around the globe has found a good, solid scientific reason for it, and now you can take advantage of this simple trick to make your own bedtime better.
Here’s the trick: listen to music that beats like your heart. In a study out of Hong Kong, researchers found that participants who listened to music for 30 to 45 minutes before bed every night for three months fell asleep more quickly, slept more deeply, and felt more rested the next morning. But not just any music. These songs featured tempos between 60 and 80 beats per minute— which just so happens to be our approximate heart rate when we fall asleep.
Yes, you can literally tame your frazzled inner-workings by syncing your heart rate with calming music. Your heart rate slows, your blood pressure drops, your stress melts away, and soon enough, your body sinks into sweet, sweet sleep.
Music is actually so effective at promoting the zzzz’s we so desperately need that sleep therapists have begun collaborating with musicians to create doze-inducing tunes. In 2011, the English band Marconi Union worked with the British Academy of Sound Therapy to create an 8-minute instrumental called “Weightless,” designed to lull listeners using proven heart-rate-lowering sounds and tempos. (It begins at 60 bpm and slows to 50 bpm by the end.) The British Academy of Sound Therapy called “Weightless” the “most relaxing song ever” and Time magazine named it one of the best inventions of the year.
And it’s legit. In a study out of the UK, participants trying to solve difficult puzzles while listening to different pieces of music showed a whopping 65 percent reduction in anxiety while listening to “Weightless.” The impact was so effective study moderator Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International said: “I would advise against driving while listening to the song because it could be dangerous.”
Since then, Marconi Union composed a 10-hour version of the song in case you want to release yourself to its wonders all night long. If it’s not your style, try one of the following lists of good sleeping songs – packaged in 3 different musical genres to (hopefully) address the aural aesthetic of every insomniac out there.
According to Laszlo Harmat, a German researcher who studies music and sleep, classical music (especially with strings) is most effective for putting struggling sleepers to bed.
Classical pieces from the Mindlab study include:
- "Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy
- “Canzonetta Sul-aria” by Mozart
- “Nocturne in E flat Major Op.9 No.2” by Chopin
Modern composer and classical musician Max Richter created an eight-hour piece called “Sleep” that is truly meant to be slept through. (There's also a one-hour version that's available for purchase.) It gets rave reviews from sleepy-heads like the following: “Expect better, more restful sleep as a result of listening to it. Buy it, buy it, buy it.”
From the Mindlab study:
- "Someone Like You," by Adele
- "Pure Shores," by All Saints
- "Please Don't Go," by Barcelona
- "Watermark," by Enya
In 2015, the music service Spotify reviewed nearly 3 million user-generated sleep playlists and found that Ed Sheeran’s song, “Thinking Out Loud,” dominated the lists worldwide. Here were others:
- “Stay With Me” – Sam Smith
- “Love Me Like You Do” – Ellie Goulding
- “I See Fire” – Ed Sheeran
- “I’m Not the Only One” – Sam Smith
- “All of Me” – John Legend
- “Earned It” – The Weeknd
- “Let Her Go” – Passenger
- “Skinny Love” – Birdy
- “Say Something” - A Great Big World, Christina Aguilera
- “FourFiveSeconds” – Rihanna, Paul McCartney, Kanye West
- “The A Team” – Ed Sheeran
- “Tenerife Sea” – Ed Sheeran
- “Give Me Love” – Ed Sheeran
- “Lay Me Down” – Sam Smith
- “Fix You” – Coldplay
- “Photograph” – Ed Sheeran
- “Kiss Me” – Ed Sheeran
- “Latch” – Sam Smith
From the Mindlab study:
- “Weightless” by Marconi Union
- "We Can Fly" by Rue du Soleil
- "Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix)" by DJ Shah
- "Electra" by Airstream
Want to create your own playlist? People should look for songs that have 60 BPM or less if they want to relax, writes Lyz Cooper of the British Academy of Sound Therapy in an email to TODAY.com. She also recommended songs without words.
If you want to calculate a song’s BPM, close your eyes while listening to the song and count the number of beats for 60 seconds. Or, you can try sites like songbpm.com for a faster estimate.
All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.