Whether intentional or unintentional, many of us have fallen asleep listening to music. But, if you’re experiencing trouble sleeping, soothing music is one of the safest natural sleep aids in existence. This is not a new idea—parents have been using lullabies to calm tired babies for hundreds of years, and now we know that there is good reason for it.
Several studies have shown that listening to music can help us fall asleep and stay asleep. Although deciding on the most relaxing music for sleep is a matter of opinion, there are certain varieties that have the highest success rate.
How Does Music Help You Sleep?
Even without scientific research, many people know that listening to music can help you relax and fall asleep, but several studies have been able to prove it. Findings show that music has the ability to decrease anxiety, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate because the enjoyment of it triggers the production of the feel-good chemical, serotonin, in our brains. This creates the perfect conditions for relaxation and sleep throughout the body.
However, there are certain types of music that are best for sleep and other types that should be avoided. The ideal sleep music would be slow—no faster than 60-80 beats per minute—and would contain no drastic changes in volume, tempo, or style.
Music with 60-80 beats per minute matches up perfectly with a normal resting heart rate, and our brains synchronize the two, encouraging sleep. It usually takes about 5 minutes for our brain and body to complete this synchronization process, and the more time spent listening, the better. Sleep music is most effective when listening time exceeds 45 minutes, plus listening to sleep music over time trains our brain to sleep when the melody starts.
On the other hand, it’s best to avoid sleep music that is fast, uplifting, stimulating, or constantly changing because it can have the opposite effect on our body, making us energetic rather than relaxed. So, genres like rock and EDM are not the best choice for sleep music. Additionally, try to avoid listening to your preferred type of music for sleep.
This allows your brain to turn off instead of anticipating what’s coming next in the song, and your brain will eventually associate this new type of music with sleep. But, if you find it difficult to listen to different types of music, instrumental covers of your favorites could be a good alternative.
What Are The Top Six Types of Sleep Music?
It can be argued that the best type of sleep music is whatever you find to be relaxing, but there are certain kinds of music that are particularly conducive to sleep. Here is a summary of the top 6 types of sleep music.
“Weightless”- Oddly enough, there is a song that has been identified by experts to be the “perfect” song for sleep, and it is considered to be the most relaxing song in existence—hence why it is number one on this list. The song is called “Weightless”, and it is performed by a band out of Manchester called Marconi Union. It is 8 minutes long and composed of guitar, piano, and miscellaneous, edited sounds. What makes this song so unique and relaxing is that no melody is repeated in the song—it starts with 60 beats per minute and gradually goes down to 50 with the use of relaxing chimes and “low whooshing tones”. A study conducted in 2011 with 40 women showed that “Weightless” is 11% more relaxing than any other song.
After the song was released, a video was made to accompany it, which shows a drone calmly flying among mountains and over lakes. Now there is a 10-hour version of the song for all night listening as well. The band has also released 5 other songs meant for sleep and relaxation. All of these are available on YouTube.
As you probably expected, classical music is also at the top of the list of best sleep music, and the term usually refers to compositions written prior to 1945. Because of its use of piano, flute, and string instruments, classical music is naturally very soothing and calming. However, a good portion of classical music can be quick and dynamic with building crescendos, so not all classical music is appropriate for sleep. Look for classical music that has slow, calm beats and doesn’t make use of a lot of bass or percussion. Even though it may not be your go-to favorite for listening, classical music has been proven to help people sleep in numerous studies.
While very similar to classical music, contemporary classical is just that—a more modern version of old-fashioned classical. Contemporary classical refers to compositions written after 1945 and often has European influence. Another large part of what separates contemporary classical music from classical music is the integration of electronic elements that became available to composers over time. The best contemporary classical music for sleep should be flowing with no substantial changes in tempo or style, no lyrics, and still fall within 60 to 80 beats per minute. Since contemporary classical is so similar to classical, many of the same benefits can be applied to both genres.
Ambient Melodies/Nature Sounds
Ambient melodies and nature sounds can be grouped together because they are often both regarded as calming background noise. Ambient music is usually repetitive but without rhythm, and it can be almost trance-like, which promotes drowsiness and relaxation. The song “Weightless” mentioned above falls into the ambient music category. Nature sounds can vary but usually include waterfalls, birds chirping, a thunderstorm, ocean waves, wind, crickets, or any other calm, natural sound. Oftentimes, ambient melodies and nature sounds are mixed together on the same track, pairing the sounds of gentle instruments with the outdoors. Together, ambient melodies and nature sounds can transport your mind and body to any relaxing setting.
This type of sleep music, also called global or international music, can refer to a number of different styles of music from around the world, and often includes the combination of several types of music. The term ‘world music’ is very broad, and encompasses sounds and styles from all continents, especially those that fall into the category of folk music. Some of the best kinds of world music for sleep are the Native American, Celtic, or Indian varieties. These styles usually include lots of flutes and stringed instruments, which are some of the most relaxing. Although it is best to try to avoid music with lyrics for the purpose of sleep, the gentle voices that may be present in world music varieties won’t necessarily take away from your ability to relax while listening.
Jazz originated in New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and has since developed several subgenres. As a result, jazz music has the potential to be very relaxing or very stimulating. Try to avoid the fast varieties and those that have lyrics, and aim for smooth jazz, which combines instrumentation with soothing digital edits. Because jazz relies heavily on piano and saxophone and is known for its smooth tones and flowing melodies, the right selection can ease tension in your body and mind. Plus, jazz is often more modern and enjoyable than the classical genres.
Sleep Music Playlists—Key Considerations
Although it may seem easy to find any classical music playlist and start relaxing, it could take some more work than that. Because the styles and melodies can vary within genre, it is important to find the right set of music that is conducive to sleep.
The most difficult part about finding or creating your sleep music playlist is making sure there are no surprises. Before you use the playlist for sleep, do a test listen for each of the songs. You don’t want to be on the verge of falling asleep when a song with a quick tempo or increased intensity comes on unexpectedly. Each song on your sleep music playlist should be similar in their overall essence so that they flow together naturally.
Next, decide on which type of sleep music you prefer. If you can’t stand classical, maybe jazz is your best option, for example. Even if your sleep music isn’t what you would normally listen to, it has to be enjoyable in order for it to be effective in helping you unwind.
Your sleep playlist must also be long enough to play for at least 45 minutes before you fall asleep and for a while after you fall asleep. This gives your body enough time to get synchronized with the music, lower your heart rate, and calm any anxieties; plus, your brain is training itself to sleep when it hears that playlist.
Luckily, some of the legwork that goes into creating a sleep playlist is already done. There are several sleep playlists available on a variety of platforms like Spotify and YouTube. Keep in mind that just searching for “sleep music” will yield many results of playlists with calming music you can find on Music Groupies, but not all of the songs will necessarily live up to the standards for the ideal sleep music. It is still important to listen to a playlist before you use it as a sleep aid to ensure it is enjoyable for you and appropriate for relaxation.
A good place to start is here—this webpage is integrated with Spotify playlists for almost all of the genres listed above and were made with the ideal sleep music specifications in mind. Finally, here is the link for the most relaxing song ever made, “Weightless”, on YouTube.
What Is The Best Way To Listen To Sleep Music?
Sometimes the logistics of listening to any kind of audio in bed or while sleeping can be challenging. Using headphones can be uncomfortable and even dangerous to wear while lying in bed or sleeping, and if you’re sharing the bed, your partner may prefer silence. Fortunately, there are options for everyone’s sleep circumstances, two of them being sleep headphones and pillow speakers.
Simply put, sleep headphones are headphones that are designed to fit comfortably while lying in a horizontal position with your head on a pillow. The three main types are over ear, in ear, or headband style. Deciding on which kind is right for you mostly depends on your preferred sleep position.
Back sleepers would be comfortable with over-ear headphones, while side sleepers may prefer in-ear headphones that won’t get in the way. Headband style is the most versatile and would work with most sleep preferences. Either way, it is best to use wireless headphones, so the wire does not pose the risk of getting tangled around your body, or worse, your neck.
If you sleep alone or your partner doesn’t mind, ditch the headphones and sleep freely with a pillow speaker. Pillow speakers are usually designed to fit inside a pillow or under it. They are available in both wired and wireless versions, but sometimes the pillow can muffle the audio, or the weight and movement of your head could damage the speaker. If this is concerning to you, a regular Bluetooth or wired speaker on your bedside table would work just as well.
Best Sleep Music – Final Thoughts
Music and the therapeutic qualities it possesses are a powerful sleep aid. Listening to music before bed and while falling asleep can have an incredibly positive impact on your body and mind in more ways than one. Although there are several types of sleep music available, the best type has soothing melodies at a pace of 60-80 beats per minute, and most importantly, it works for you.