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Music: a popular sleep aid

A recent UK study examined how people use music to help sleep and why they believe it improves sleep quality.

Insufficient sleep is a widespread problem with social, economic, and health impacts. Sleep difficulties have been associated with a number of adverse health outcomes, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and lower overall well-being. Despite the significant impacts of sleep quality on health, sleep is often disregarded as a public health concern.

One-third of Canadians receive less than seven hours of sleep per night

Many factors contribute to poor quality sleep, including caffeine consumption, work demands, social commitments, stress, and family life. About one-third of Canadians receive less than seven hours of sleep per night, the minimum amount recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. Adults between 18 and 64 years old should receive between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, and those over 65 should sleep seven to nine hours each night. Many Canadians also have compromised sleep quality. About 43% of men and 55% of women report having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep sometimes, most of the time, or all of the time.

Pharmaceutical sleep aids can have harmful side effects

There are a number of sleep disorders that can have an impact on quality of life. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder and often involves difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Treatment options for sleep problems and disorders include both lifestyle changes and medication. However, pharmaceutical sleep aids can have a number of harmful side effects. A recent UK study showed that music might be an effective alternative to pharmaceuticals to help with sleep.

The authors of the study looked at the effects of music as a sleep aid by polling 651 people over the age of 18 with an online survey. The survey evaluated subjects on musicality (musical sensitivity, knowledge, or talent), sleep habits, and open text responses on what types of music might help with sleep and why.

Music is a popular sleep aid

The results, published PLOS One, showed that 62% of respondents reported using music to help with sleep. Participants described 14 unique musical genres and 545 different artists. Classical music was the most commonly used genre of music to help with sleep, reported by about 32% of participants. The types of music used for sleep varied and were not restricted to only relaxing and peaceful music genres.

Even those without a diagnosed sleep disorder used music to improve sleep quality, and about 36% of participants used music for sleep at least once per week. In addition, younger people with a higher musical engagement—a measure involving attention, emotion, and response to music—were more likely to use music as a sleep aid.

Respondents reported a number of reasons for using sleeping music, including relaxation, focus, or to change the mood. The study also identified other motivators for using music such as improved bedtime routine, masking of external noises, and distraction from negative thoughts. Previous studies have shown that music can benefit anxiety, which may result from chemical and biological changes in the body, though further research is needed.

Although the current study demonstrates that music is a popular sleep aid, the results have a few limitations. First, the study participants were recruited through web-based platforms, which favour younger individuals and those with access to the internet. Second, the results are based on how participants felt that music improved sleep, and do not account for any objective sleep measures such as changes to body physiology. Lastly, respondents were self-selected for the study, meaning that participants themselves chose whether or not to partake in the study. As a result, the views of music users might be overrepresented in the study outcomes.

More research needed to understand how music can treat sleep difficulties

Despite these limitations, the study shows how various types of music might benefit a range of sleep-related problems. It also reveals the diverse reasons behind using music to help sleep. Music therapy is a low-cost and side-effect free option to treat insufficient sleep. Further research is needed to better understand any biological changes caused by music, and how music can be used to treat sleep difficulties and disorders.

Written by Braydon Black, BSc


  1. Trahan T, Durrant SJ, Müllensiefen D, Williamson VJ. The music that helps people sleep and the reasons they believe it works: A mixed methods analysis of online survey reports. PLoS One [Internet]. 2018 Nov [cited 2018 Dec 22];13(11):e0206531. Available from: doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0206531
  2. Chaput JP, Wong SL, Michaud I. Duration and quality of sleep among Canadians aged 18 to 79 [Internet]. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2017 Sep 20 [cited 2018 Dec 22]. p. 28-33 Cat. No.: 82-003-X. Available from
  3. HealthLink BC. Insomnia [Internet]. Burnaby (British Columbia): Government of British Columbia. [updated 2017 Oct 10; cited 2018 Dec 22]. Available from:
  4. Merriam-Webster dictionary [Internet]. Springfield (MA): Merriam-Webster Incorporated; 2018. Musicality; [updated 2018 Nov 24; cited 2018 Dec 22]. Available from:
  5. Leslie G, Ojeda A, Makeig S. Measuring musical engagement using expressive movement and EEG brain dynamics. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain [Internet]. 2014 Jan 15 [cited 2018 Dec 22];24(1):75-91. Available from:


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