Can Listening to Music Relieve Insomnia?

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos are proving to be popular among sleep deprived individuals looking for a natural way to fall asleep. Although we don't know for sure exactly how ASMR works, we do know that the sensory response is activated by sound and visual stimuli. Typically, ASMR consists of sounds that aren't 'musical' but are rather rhythmic. So with that in mind, is it possible that music alone can improve sleep in those with chronic insomnia?

A 2015 review set out to determine the effect of music on insomnia in adults. Six studies were included, involving a total of 314 participants.

The studies examined the effect of listening to music every day for between 25 and 60 minutes over the course of three days to five weeks.

Researchers found that listening to music improved sleep quality and that the improvement was significant enough to be considered clinically relevant.

Why does music appear to improve sleep?

Authors of the review pointed out that studies have found music may improve sleep as it can:

  • Reduce stress

  • Reduce anxiety

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Reduce cortisol levels

  • Reduce levels of arousal

  • Be a distraction from stressful thoughts

All of these factors can help promote relaxation and improve sleep.

What type of music is best for sleep?

The studies included in the review used music that was described as either sedative or relaxing. Researchers were unable to determine whether some types of music were more effective than others. However, researchers found that there was no difference in the effect on sleep quality between trials using music chosen by researchers and music chosen by participants.

That being said, the authors of the review did point out that music with a slow tempo and an absence of abrupt changes and rhythmic complexity is recommended for those looking for a sedative effect.

Combining music with exercise

We already know that exercise improves sleep, but how does it compare to listening to music and how effective could exercise be at improving sleep when combined with music?

A 2016 study published in Applied Nursing Research set out to determine the effect of listening to music before bed compared to walking on a treadmill as a way to improve sleep quality.

Researchers recruited 38 adults between the age of 50 and 75 who suffered with chronic insomnia. Each participant listened to soothing music before bed for 30 minutes each day for two consecutive nights. The music that participants listened to ranged from 60 to 80 beats per minute, had minor tonalities, and had smooth melodies.

The following week, participants undertook a brisk walking exercise on a treadmill for 30 minutes between 5.30 PM and 7.30 PM each day for two consecutive days while listening to music with a tempo of 100 beats per minute.

Researchers found that both interventions reduced the amount of time it took for participants to fall asleep at night, reduced time spent awake during the night, and increased sleep efficiency, compared to baseline data.

Listening to soothing music was found to be particularly effective at reducing the amount of time spent awake during the night.

It's worth mentioning that although the sleep of participants did improve when they listened to music before bed or exercised while listening to music, the interventions did not cure insomnia.

If you suffer from chronic insomnia, it's best to seek medical advice.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.