You don’t need scientific research to tell you that listening to music can quiet your mind and help you relax. But here it is anyway.
A 2013 study published in the online peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE found that listening to music before a stressful situation helps calm the nervous system. Additional research has shown that music can act as a sleep aid, and that classical music in particular is effective in reducing sleeping problems.
As long as a song or musical number is string-instrument based, with minimal brass and percussion, it has the potential to bring on drowsiness by decreasing anxiety, blood pressure and heart and respiratory rates. Findings suggest that music around 60 beats per minute (the low end of a healthy resting heart rate) can trigger your brain to synchronize your heart rate with the musical beat, and classical does this best.
So it’s Mozart or nothing?
Not necessarily. Kansas State University’s counseling center suggests adding Baroque or New Age music to your sleep playlist, or any other music that has no defined melody and minimal fluctuations in volume. The University of Nevada Counseling Services recommends Native American and Celtic music, Indian stringed instruments, flutes and light jazz. While rock may not be the best option, acoustic instrumental versions of your favorite songs could be worth a listen.
Just keep in mind that two to three tracks probably won’t do the trick. You may need to spend at least 45 minutes in a relaxed position in your bed, listening, to feel the effects. And it could take consecutive days of listening before you find your eyelids drooping to the beat.
According to Gabe Turow, the organizer of a Stanford University symposium that looked at therapeutic benefits of musical rhythm, “Listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication, in many circumstances.”
Is there one perfect song that will put me to sleep?
Actually, there is, according to the British Academy of Sound Therapy. The institution, collaborating with the Manchester band Marconi Union, said it used scientific theory to produce the world’s most relaxing song ever, “Weightless.”
Lyz Cooper, founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, explained that not only does the rhythm of “Weightless” lull you by synchronizing with your heart rate (starting at 60 beats per minute and gradually slowing to around 50), but the length of the song figures in as well.
“It’s important that the song is eight minutes because it takes about five minutes for that syncing process to occur.” As with classical music, the drop in heart rate also leads to a drop in blood pressure.
Composed of guitar, piano and manipulated field recordings, “Weightless” relies on “harmonic intervals — or gaps between notes” to create a feeling of “euphoria and comfort,” according to Cooper. And there’s “no repeated melody, which allows your brain to completely switch off” because you’re not trying to predict what comes next. Rather, there are “random chimes that induce a deeper sense of relaxation” and “low whooshing” tones like Buddhist chants that supposedly induce a trance-like state.
Though a few listeners found the bass beats made them hyper, others described the music as “aural bliss.”
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