The Best Soundtrack for Bedtime

If you think about it, many of life’s notable moments come with a soundtrack. The music on the radio when you had your first kiss, the music sung at religious services, Pomp and Circumstance at graduation, Pachelbel’s Canon during a wedding, your favorite music to run or work out to, Military taps at funerals for veterans, the sound of a mountain stream or a bird call on your favorite hiking trail, Native American chants at sacred events or healing ceremonies, and the list goes on.

Everyone’s life, and therefore the soundtrack that accompanies it, is different. What is similar is the way our body responds to music. Healthy adults and children over age 10 have a resting heartrate of between 60 and 100 beats per minute, though very fit athletes will be as low as 40 beats per minute. When we exercise, or when we are anxious, our heartrate increases. When we are rested and relaxed, our heartrate tends to fall. The music we choose often matches our mood and leads the beat of the music and our pulse to become more in line.

Pop music tends to have a faster pulse, matching that of our own heart while we dance to it. Runners usually choose faster music, encouraging them to move faster. Yoga classes and Native American healing ceremonies are accompanied by slow, rhythmic music meant to match the need to be calm. And it is no coincidence that Pomp and Circumstance and Pachelbel’s Canon have a slower, more regular beat, as graduations and weddings are occasions to slow down and focus on the moment.

Novice musicians are taught to play music while listening to a metronome so they internalize the beat. If the same approach were taken to people looking for help falling asleep, the metronome would be set at between 60 and 80 beats per minute. A study found that listening to the music of Mozart and Strauss resulted in lower blood pressure and heart rate. Spotify actually has a playlist called 60pbm meant for sleep and relaxation. Calm.com is an app offering music and nature sounds for sleep and relaxation that has over 50 million downloads.

So what music will help you fall asleep? Here are six suggestions by genre. Most music streaming services create playlists by genre, and many even focus on sleep.

  • Classical music: Classical music tends to have a slower beat. A study in PLOS One surveying sleep habits in 651 adults worldwide, found that 62% had used music at least once to help fall asleep. The most popular genre, with 32% of respondents, was classical.
  • Sounds of Nature: Many massage therapists use nature sounds playlists as backdrops to massages and other spa treatments. This is because research shows that nature sounds help the body relax.
  • Native American chants and drumming: Native Americans incorporate singing, chanting and drumming into their ceremonies and healing rituals. These chants are often slow and repetitive and are intended to connect the body and spirit,to heal both of them.
  • Folk music: When children have a hard time falling asleep, parents will play lullabies. Many folk artists are now coming out with CDs to help children sleep. One, by Mark Erelli, is called Innocent When You Dream. Unlike classical music or nature sounds, the music tells a verbal story you can listen to while falling asleep. Amazon music unlimited has a playlist called Folk for Sleep.
  • Quiet pop: While loud pop music is not suggested for bedtime, there are many musicians, known as crooners, whose songs have a slow tempo. They include John Legend, Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran. When Spotify surveyed its users about their sleep playlists, many of these crooners made the cut.
  • New Age: New Age music, like nature sounds, are often used at spas to relax people during treatments. It also sometimes accompanies yoga classes. New Age music incorporates chanting, nature sounds, gongs and drumming, heartbeats and synthesized sounds. Enya is one of the most popular new age artists. Another New Age artist, Marconi Union, has what is considered the top song for rest: Weightless, which has over 50 million views on YouTube. The musicians created it in collaboration with sound therapists.

Bedtime is a time to unwind after a long day filled with activity and stimulation. Go to bed in a room that is dark and around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Our circadian clocks respond to cues of lightness and darkness and control the production of melatonin, a hormone that make you sleepy. They also respond to temperature and regulate heartrate changes that make us awake during the day and sleepy at night. Taken together, all of these external signals send messages to the brain that it is time for bed.

Adults commonly experience insomnia at some point in their lives, even if it is just for a few weeks due to stress or trauma. If you are anxious or thinking a lot after a long day at nighttime, you are out of synch with your internal clock, which wants to slow down. Listening to slow music can help relax you and lower your heartrate, which sends cue to your body you are ready to go to sleep. What kind of music you choose is up to you, just make sure it is slow enough to relax you.