Posted in Health, music, news

Why Music Helps One Sleep

A study from the University of Sheffield has found people find music, such as Perfect from Ed Sheeran, to be the most helpful sleep aid.

Looking at 651 respondents, study authors found 62% used music to lull themselves to sleep and genres chosen included Classical (Mozart, Chopan), Pop (Ed Sheeran, Coldplay) and Brian Eno (rock, ambient techno).

The Guardian reports the following:

When streaming service Spotify analyzed its users’ Sleep playlists, it found Sheeran was the most commonly chosen artist, although this is probably down to his ubiquity rather than some hitherto unexplored somnolent quality in his music. In fact, his three most popular tracks on Spotify all hover slightly above the ideal bpm rate for sleep: Perfect comes in at 95bpm, Shape of You at 96bpm and Happier at 90bpm. Still they are notably slower than the 117-122 bpm that has characterized most popular music from the 1940s until today.

How does music affect sleep?

Although we don’t know for sure why music helps one sleep, we believe it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, inducing relaxation, slower breathing, slower heart rate, and digestion.

A study in 2017 performed by neuroradiologist, Dr. Jonathan Burdette, found any music that appeals to an individual will better connect a “default mode network” in the brain seen on functional MRI.


Brain-on-music (1)



Another study from the University of Helsinki found music to affect the receptors of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in mood.

Another theory is music distracts one from thinking about his/her day thereby reducing stress hormones and epinephrine that may be triggered from anxious thoughts.


Sleeping Pill Use “Worse than Smoking”

Arizona State University researchers last year reported the use of use of sleeping pills is “worse than smoking” for one’s health.

Sleep researcher, Shawn Youngstedt, told CNN, “They are as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Not to mention they cause infections, falling and dementia in the elderly, and they lose their effectiveness after a few weeks.”

For years sleeping aids including antihistamines (ex. diphendyrdramine), benzodiazepines (ex. lorazepam, alprazolam), non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic (ex. Ambien) have been studied and linked to side effects including:

  • Sleep walking
  • Insomnia
  • Numbness, tingling
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Memory loss
  • Dizziness
  • and more

In 2012, a study of 10,500 people found those who used sleeping pills were 4X as likely to die in the 2.5-year study than those who didn’t use medications for sleep.

Dr. Kripke and his colleagues at Scripps also found a 35% increase risk of cancer, noting lymphoma, lung, colon and prostate cancer risk was worse than that of smoking.

Also in 2012, a study published in Thorax, found benzodiazepine use linked to the severe lung infection, pneumonia.

In 2014, a study from China Medical University in Taiwan found only four sleeping pills a year increased risk of heart attack by 20% and 60 tablets a year was linked to a 50% increase.

A separate study found an increased risk of aortic dissection with sleeping pill use.




What causes insomnia?

Insomnia is a disorder where one has difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep.  Many factors can cause insomnia. These include:

  • Medications (stimulants, decongestants)
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Stress, anxiety, depression
  • Thyroid disorder
  • Chronic pain
  • Neck and back arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Respiratory conditions (asthma, COPD)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Urinary frequency
  • Diarrhea
  • Neurological conditions
  • Sleep apnea

and of course environmental issues such as noise, temperature, and kitty cats.

Treatments for insomnia

Treating insomnia can be complex.  We begin by treating the underlying cause, such as any of those listed above.  Then we can try the following:

  • Lowering the room temperature to an average of 65 degrees F
  • Shut off artificial lights 1-2 hours before going to bed
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Dinner  including foods rich in tryptophan (fish, nuts, tofu, turkey, eggs and seeds)
  • Warm bath
  • Cognitive and/or behavioral therapy
  • Aromatherapy including lavender
  • Black out curtains to keep out light
  • Daily exercise
  • Listen to low volume music such as classical, the blues, or jazz
  • to name a few.

Youngstedt also suggests exercise. He states its “healthier” than using sleeping aids and “research suggests those who are physically active have a lower risk of developing insomnia in the first place.”

Now it could be that those who suffer from certain medical conditions are more at risk of insomnia but more needs to be studied in terms of why these medications are linked to poor health outcomes.




Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.


Nationally Syndicated Radio Host, Board Certified Family Medicine Physician, Author

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