Music & Sleep

Why Does Music Affect Sleep?

The ability to hear music depends on a series of steps that convert sound waves coming into the ear into electrical signals in the brain. As the brain interprets these sounds, a cascade of physical effects are triggered within the body. Many of these effects either directly promote sleep or reduce issues that interfere with sleep.

Several studies suggest that music enhances sleep because of its effects on the regulation of hormones, including the stress hormone cortisol. Being stressed and having elevated levels of cortisol can increase alertness and lead to poor sleep. Listening to music decreases levels of cortisol, which may explain why it helps put people at ease and release stress.

Music triggers the release of dopamine, a hormone released during pleasurable activities, like eating, exercise, and sex. This release can boost good feelings at bedtime and address pain, another common cause of sleep issues. Physical and psychological responses to music are effective in reducing both acute and chronic physical pain.

Listening to music can also contribute to relaxation by soothing the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is part of your body’s natural system for controlling automatic or unconscious processes, including those within the heart, lungs, and digestive system8. Music improves sleep through calming parts of the autonomic nervous system, leading to slower breathing, lower heart rate, and reduced blood pressure.

Many people with poor sleep associate their bedrooms with frustration and sleepless nights. Music can counteract this, distracting from troubling or anxious thoughts and encouraging the physical and mental relaxation needed to fall asleep.

Night-time noise, whether it’s from roads, airplanes, or noisy neighbors, can decrease sleep efficiency and is linked to several adverse health consequences including cardiovascular disease. Music can help to drown out these environmental noises and increase sleep efficiency.

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