Snoozing to soothing sound: Everything you need to know about relaxing music for sleeping
Let's agree: Great dreams, like a great movie, deserve a great soundtrack.
From ancient times to Walkmans, iPods and Spotify, relaxing music for sleeping will always play an important part in our ever busy society. Music in general is in fact so powerful in manipulating our state of mind that Ludwig Van Beethoven famously described music as “A higher revelation of wisdom and philosophy”. Pretty hard to disagree with that,
Although music is often associated with active things, chances are that every single one of us has once fallen asleep to our favourite artists. Not only is it enjoyable but sometimes even efficient, especially when time is lacking. Just think about it: You get to enjoy relaxing music for sleeping with the option of discovering new artists at the same time, it’s two birds with one stone!
Get warm and cosy in your blanket and put on your pyjamas as we discover how not only music but even plain sound can aid you in your sleep! (Unless you’re reading this at work, please don’t get into your pyjamas at work.)
The many uses of sound
The Science of brainwaves
Hearing with two ears
Our top list
Podcasts and audiobooks
The many uses of sound
In the field of music therapy, relaxing music for sleeping is part of a larger world. In fact, they have a term for this: Auditory stimulation. and its applications are immense. Music as a means of soothing and therapy has been employed since ancient times, from the Chinese to the Greeks. The term seems pretty self-explanatory: It is about stimulating people or positively influencing them with the help of sound. So far, so good.
The really nice part of this is that it aims for the nervous system of a person. Therefore, soothing music can be used as a form of sensory therapy. When it comes to the field of music therapy, auditory stimulation has for example been applied to people who have to deal with ADD, dementia or autism. Modern applications of music have placed a focus on people struggling with PTSD as an effective long-term treatment over medication, which is prone to side effects like nausea, lack of concentration and drowsiness.
As for every sleep-deprived person out there, whether you are parents with a demanding child, workaholics or straight-up insomniacs, know that you are not forgotten! Music, especially familiar music or of the soothing kind distracts you from thoughts and relaxes your muscles. This, in turn, helps to:
- Reduce anxiety,
- Reduce blood pressure
- Reduce your respiratory and heart rate in addition to contributing to overall sleep quality.
The scope of music doesn’t end there either, as for centuries the military has used music for training and logistics, as the drums help keep soldiers organised and synchronised in their formation, a legacy you can also find today in marching bands.
Outside of the medical and military field, auditory stimulation has been an effective tool for accelerated learning. A good example would be a jingle or a song to remember Spanish grammar or advertisements that use a catchy jingle to help remember the slogan or brand (Coca-Cola anyone?). Auditory stimulation makes up a huge part of child education too, not only in school but also in TV shows like the ever famous Muppets and Sesame Street.
Bell instruments like the ones used in Classical music or the chimes you can leave hanging near the terrace or garden also seem to have quite the effect on relaxation and are a solid choice of instrument in Ambient-style music, music therapy and other relaxing music for sleeping.
Music (depending on the genre) or even plain sound can therefore indeed stimulate us into a better performance or mood, and already has clear health benefits. But what exactly do people use to help them sleep? Some turn to Deep Sleep music.
The Science of brainwaves
Back in the old days, scientist Hans Berger invented a machine known as the EEG, short for electroencephalograph, a non-invasive machine which allowed him to record the electrical activity of the brain. He would soon discover the first brainwaves, notably Berger’s wave, now also known as the Alpha wave, as well as the Beta wave, its suppressant.
What is a brain wave? In the most simple terms, you can consider it as a vibe.
Imagine or remember yourself in a stressed state of mind. That unpleasant, anxious sensation leaving you tense, as if something is squeezing your heart and insides. If you flex your arm you would see your hand shaking. Now imagine yourself relaxed. That tranquillity while enjoying a book on a hammock or your beloved couch. How do you feel? Is that feeling mellow or active?
With an EEG, these states of mind can be represented by waves. Music therapists took notice and have sought to take advantage of this. If you go look on Spotify or iTunes for Deep Sleep music you’re likely to find something that makes use of these waves.
Let’ s get nerdy for a few minutes. Today, we know 5 main, fancily named brainwaves:
During deep sleep: The Delta wave.
Delta waves are the slowest brainwaves and are typically associated with deep sleep. You’d be surprised to know that despite being the slowest brainwaves, deep sleep is actually quite an active process by itself. Deep sleep is crucial for physical regeneration, but also for your brain as it helps reorganise your memories amongst other things.
While dreaming: The Theta wave.
Theta waves are most commonly associated with dreaming. They tend to be present during sleep, but also happen to be around in deep meditation. They are also associated with restorative sleep, in addition to creativity and relaxation. If you’ve ever found yourself daydreaming, that is a situation in which Theta waves typically become dominant
These are the two most important waves when it comes to sleep. However, there are some other waves which play central roles throughout your life.
In a resting state: The Alpha wave.
Alpha waves are the resting state of the brain, you’re in a sense alert, but not many thoughts are circulating in your head. Are you about to get up or go to bed? Perhaps even just take a short nap and close your eyes, or just zone out with an easy to watch series? In these cases, you will automatically produce more Alpha waves.
In a waking state: The Beta wave.
These are dominant when your mind is focused on the present, and are pretty much present when you work or are alert. Debaters and active communicators are often in high Beta states. Too much of a beta state is usually indicative of stress and anxiety.
These are the two waves important for you waking state. Finally, there is a rather special one:
A higher state of being? The Gamma wave:
There’s been quite some debate between neuroscientists around the Gamma wave, which has been associated with higher consciousness and awareness. A 2004 study put 8 veteran Buddhist monks together, when they were “told to generate an objective feeling of compassion during meditation”, their brain activity would start to “fire in a rhythmic, coherent manner, suggesting neuronal structures were firing in harmony”. Novice monks, on the other hand, were found to generate little to no Gamma waves at all.
And there you have it! Today, we still use electroencephalography and apart from some updates, the process hasn’t changed much.
“That’s nice and sciency and all, but you’re talking about brain waves, not relaxing music for sleeping, let alone sound! What’s the relation?”
Hearing with two ears
Fair enough, you are right!
Enter binaural beats, also known as brainwave entrainment which is heavily used in Deep Sleep music. Now let me warn you beforehand: This can feel pretty weird. Binaural beats reportedly only work with headphones, although there’s no reason not to try with speakers. A binaural beat consists of two sounds of similar but different frequencies, one in each headphone, which would combine harmoniously, somewhat similarly to acapella bands but only on one note and in a duet.
Here is a nice little website to get a good idea. (However just as a warning: If you’re prone to epilepsy or have had seizures in the past, then please, please do not click this link and listen to its contents. We care about you!)
Do note the pre-sets slightly below to the right. Remember: Delta is for deep sleep. Theta is associated with dreaminess. Alpha is a blank or relaxed state of mind and Beta is when you’re active. Try to clear your mind of any thoughts and expectations, and set the volume to an acceptable level. You can play around, but try to give a minute or two for your state of choice. At first glance, you’d think this sounds like an alien spaceship, if not a microwave or a washing machine. Whatever it sounds like to you, if you give it an open mind you will notice there is something weird about this after all. Hopefully, your chosen frequency will have guided you towards the intended effect!
Humans tend to view the environment in terms of patterns, we seek out things that fit the puzzle, so to speak. This is known as the Gestalt principle and there is frankly nothing you can do about it, as it is hard-wired into our brains. Here are some examples in terms of visual perception.
The same can be applied to the auditory senses, instead of the visual. Think of when you walk around the city with a friend or relative, have you ever noticed that your steps end up synchronised? Or when you walk with music which just happens to have a walkable tempo, before you know it you’re walking to the beat! This is how some insomniacs get treated. Binaural beats or brainwave entrainment aims to naturally help you synchronise yourself to a desired state of mind.
Similar to binaural beats are isochronic tones, with the difference being that isochronic tones are, simply put, sounds or tones that are very rapidly turned on and off instead of waves, thereby creating pronounced pulses of sound. Because of their hypnotic nature, both are effective tools for soothing music and deep sleep music. Mind that at the end of the day, you are the one in control of your state of mind, but brainwave entrainment is definitely a nifty, assisting tool.
The following is an example of binaural beats incorporated into an actual piece of music and had even made the headlines as “the most relaxing song ever”. The song is called “Weightless” and is composed by the band Marconi Union, reportedly in collaboration with sound therapists. The official explanation is that the track would start on 60 beats per minute and slowly but surely slow it down to 50.
Furthermore, the brain would stop trying to predict patterns due to the lack of a repetitive melody, which would put you in a trance-like state which itself is amplified with the help of low tones.
On the other hand, active music like EDM, Disco and House music work in similar ways, but for opposite reasons: A good DJ would typically start off at a comfortable tempo, and as he or she works on blending booming basslines and high tones, the DJ would slowly raise the tempo little by little, song by song and rock the party.
But that’s drifting off again (damn you Marconi!), let’s stay focused on relaxing music for sleeping!
Our top 8 list (in no particular order, videos are below!)
Here are our top choices regarding relaxing music for sleeping. For now let’s call it the “Relaxing Music For Sleeping list” (original, right?).
Practically anything by Enya
You can never go wrong with Enya! The song is “Caribbean Blue”.
A pioneering band who just keep on surprising. The song is “ Codex”.
I can’t think of any better album to get lost in. This Ambient classic from the 80’s is hypnotising and soothing, not to mention just really, really good. Don’ t bother skipping from part to part for an idea, there’s no point!
Classical Music is great for almost anything: Work, relaxing, you name it. Debussy’ s magnificent piece “Clair de Lune” starts off slow, gently embracing you in its arms before finally taking you into an almost magic-like rollercoaster of dream and wonder.
If Sinatra can dominate Christmas, why can he not dominate our dreams?
Here’ s to the Dr.House fans, but also for the Trip-Hop fans in general with “Teardrop”.
The ever enduring Moby never disappoints. The song is “Porcelain”.
Check out his latest works: the 4-hour long Ambient “Calm. Sleep”. If nothing helps you sleep, this one certainly will.
A real upcoming gem from the Scandinavian lands with a heavenly voice! The song is “Runaway”
Some genres are better suited to help sleep than others. However every person is unique and different, what matters in the end is what floats your boat. The important thing to remember is that when it comes to relaxing music for sleeping, the resting heartbeat lies generally between 60 and 100 BPM. This, of course, depends on the person. So as a general rule it’s definitely a good idea to go for soothing music that tends to go around this area. Feel free to spend an hour or two to explore what sounds and music work best to help you sleep.
Podcasts and Audiobooks
Don’t know what exactly to go for? You could always go for podcasts! Podcasts are great to help you sleep due to their one hour format, and if that’s not enough just leave it on autoplay for the next episode. It’s like binge watching Netflix on your couch or latex mattress but much more relaxing and sleep-inducing since there’s no screen to artificially keep you from sleeping. You can find many podcasts on players like Spotify and iTunes, not only music but also simple talk shows. Sometimes, the human voice is all you need. Speaking of which, there is one last thing you could try to help you sleep if music fails or you feel like something different: Audiobooks. Ever feel like you just don’t have time to just sit on your couch or be near the heating and be left alone, just so you can read a good book? With audiobooks you can read up while resting at the same time, that’s another pair of birds with one stone! Audiobooks are absolutely fantastic, especially when narrated by your favourite celebrity or people with just great voices. There is a slight downside to this, though, because once you actually start to drift away you won’t quite remember where you left off.
“That’ s great indeed, but there is one small little detail you forgot.”
What? What is it then?
Go ahead and tell!
“… I’m a side sleeper.”
Oh… Right. Well, we can certainly relate to the frustration of the side sleeper, especially if you have nice headphones that you don’t want to twist, let alone hurting your ears with your earphones. How irritating! Nevertheless, we’ve got you covered on that too; why not consider getting a pillow speaker?
These neat little devices can be slipped into your favourite pillow, and plugged into your player, after which you can just forget all about it and snooze off bit by bit! If that’s still not working out, I’d recommend going unorthodox and slipping them between the bed cover and mattress, or mattress topper. Some, however, might wonder about the health impacts of the electrical currents, and rightfully so. If you happen to be hypersensitive to electronic devices then it’s already out of the question. The problem is that at the moment there isn’t enough conclusive data to support any serious recommendation, so we’re going to have to be patient. In the meantime, it is safe to assume that if headphones are okay, then pillow speakers should be okay. Don’t want to spend money? You could always try with some old earphones, chuck them into your pillows and see how that goes, but the sound quality (especially the lower tones) is likely to suffer (although they might be adequate enough for talk shows. If anyone has tried this feel free to tell us.)
Hopefully, this article has been helpful in informing you of all the possibilities and benefits of a good old tune or even just plain sound. May your dreams carry you to wonderful places!