What is the best music to fall asleep to?

“It is never the voice that speaks, but always the higher reality in the world, in man, through works of art.”

(Béla Hamvas: Schumann)

Restful music – by Nóra Fehér

Having been surrounded by music all my life, when my child was born, it was essential for me that she should be part of the ethereal experience of listening to the sound of music. Even as a fetus, and since birth, we say goodbye to the day every night before bedtime with live music or by listening to something magical.

Music is part of our lives. A nice melody, a well-known hit, a great concert can be the experience of a lifetime. Music has the power to influence our moods, evoke emotions and distract us from our current problems. It can also play an important role in reducing our daily anxiety, which is essential for improving sleep quality. It’s just a question of what kind of music we’re talking about, because the palette is quite broad. Of course, everyone has their own musical preferences – from classical music to heavy metal – and our choice depends on our mood at the time. In one case we choose songs that get us in the mood, in another we prefer quieter, nostalgic tunes.

The quality of our sleep is also the quality of our life. When we are sleep deprived, we tend to perform worse at work, have less patience with family and friends, and feel depressed and unmotivated, even in leisure activities that we otherwise enjoy. The quality of sleep varies with age, and sleep problems can increase significantly in old age. However, the lifestyle dictated by modern society no longer spares young people from sleep problems. Whether we have enough time to sleep and what we do to get a good night’s rest is a very pertinent question. Sleeping pills may seem a simple and temporarily effective solution, but most are only recommended in the short term, as there is a risk of habituation, i.e. taking more and more pills to get the desired effect.

In the field of sleep medicine, music therapy is primarily used in its receptive form, i.e. listening to music, although it is possible that active instrument playing or singing, music and movement improvisation and the associated emotional processing of experiences may not have a therapeutic effect on sleep quality. In most cases, the therapy is not directly dependent on the person of a qualified music therapist, so it is perhaps more appropriate to talk about the therapeutic effects of music rather than music therapy in the classical sense.

Sleep problems are most often associated with difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. In other words, we need too long to fall asleep and/or wake up frequently during the night. Normally, we should fall asleep within 15 minutes after lights out. However, when we are preoccupied with work or family problems, the time needed to fall asleep increases significantly. Understandably, these thoughts are usually accompanied by tension and anxiety, which in fact trigger the opposite physical reactions to those needed to fall asleep: our heart beats faster, our blood pressure rises, we breathe more quickly.

The aim should therefore be to achieve physical and mental calm before falling asleep, excluding disturbing thoughts. Regular physical activity, preferably not in the late hours of the night, a light diet, and practising various relaxation techniques (autogenic training, Jacobson muscle relaxation) can help us sleep better at night. For more serious problems, cognitive behavioural therapy can also be useful to help you cope with disturbing thoughts during sleep with some external support. However, I would also recommend another relatively easy and effective way to promote better sleep, which is to listen to music.

Of course, we respond to music not only with emotions, but also with observable physical reactions. Music with a fast tempo and tight rhythm, played at higher volume, usually makes our heart beat faster, our breathing quicker and our palms sweat more, among other things, which indicates a state of excitement in our body. Music played at a slow tempo and low volume helps to relax the muscles in our body, which is associated with a decrease in breathing and heart rate. Listening to slow-tempo classical music, mainly with strings, in 40-62 metres can be an excellent way to prepare your body for sleep. Of course, if you don’t like serious music, or if Albinoni’s Adagio gives you the creeps, don’t listen to it.
Fortunately, music compositions specifically designed to promote relaxation are now widely available. It is not necessary to listen to music while lying in bed just before going to sleep, but it is good to have it playing in the background for about 30-40 minutes while you are preparing to go to bed.

However, do not expect an immediate effect. A few years ago, a study was carried out at Semmelweis University, in which László Harmat and his research team looked at university students with mild sleep problems. One group listened to slow classical music for three weeks, while the control group listened to audio books for 30 minutes before falling asleep. Our hypotheses were confirmed, with an improvement in the sleep quality of the music group but not the audiobook group. However, this effect only emerged after two weeks of listening to music and showed a significant difference compared to the audiobook group. Members of the music group took less time to fall asleep and had a more restful night’s sleep due to the beneficial effects of music. According to Harmat there are some music and albums to fall asleep to:

-Felix Mendelssohn: Violin concerto in E minor, movement 2

-Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C major K. 467, 2nd movement

-Camille Saint-Saëns: The Swan

-Johann Sebastian Bach: Air, Suite for orchestra in G major, No. 3

-Samuel Barber: Adagio for string. Op. 11.