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aged women listening to the music

Music as Therapy: A Guide to Better Sleep With Anxiety Relief Music

Have you ever wondered why gentle rhythms and soothing lullabies help young children fall asleep? Parents may not know the exact science behind why that happens, but one thing is sure: it works!

Fast forward several years later, and many kids grow into anxious adults with trouble falling or staying asleep. And while you may have outgrown lullabies as an adult, you can get quality sleep by listening to anxiety relief music at bedtime or whenever you feel stressed.

This guide explains how music therapy works and how it can help people struggling with anxiety sleep better.

Why Should You Consider Music for Anxiety and Sleep?

Let’s start by saying music therapy does not replace professional medical care. Do not hesitate to seek medical help if you struggle with anxiety that makes sleep increasingly difficult.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, why should you consider music therapy for sleep and anxiety?

Here’s the thing.

Music positively impacts the body in more ways than one. For starters, it reduces the number of things that may interfere with sleep, allowing you to sleep more soundly.

The National Sleep Foundation notes that music is vital in regulating the stress hormone cortisol. Listening to music decreases cortisol levels, leading to a heightened sense of ease and relaxation.

And as you are well aware, it is much easier to enjoy quality sleep if you are in a relaxed state.

Indeed, other forms of therapy, like Reiki, can help with anxiety and insomnia. However, using Reiki for anxiety usually requires the presence of someone versed in the specialized practice. This is especially the case if you are new to the practice and haven’t mastered self-healing using the technique.

On the other hand, many people find it easier to use music to improve anxiety symptoms and get better sleep. One of the reasons for this is that you don’t need any specialized skill to listen to music while you sleep.

That said, not all types of music produce calming effects.

Certain types of songs can aggravate anxious thoughts, causing sleep to elude you even more. We’ll discuss that in a bit, but for now, let’s briefly discuss how music therapy works.

How Music Therapy Works for Sleep and Anxiety

Music is undoubtedly a powerful tool for altering human emotional and physical states. Think of a time you had goosebumps when your favorite song came on the radio.

This strong physical reaction is the nucleus accumbens (your brain’s reward center), producing visible signs of pleasure in response to music.

Interestingly, music activates nearly all parts of the brain, not just the nucleus accumbens. Different networks of the brain respond differently to music, depending on the melody, tempo, and pitch.

In other words, music affects the body, causing both emotional shifts (how you feel) and physical reactions (dancing, nodding, tapping your toes, or goosebumps).

When it comes to aiding sleep in people with anxiety, calming music can reduce worrisome thoughts, which, in turn, promotes relaxation.

Additionally, music therapy improves sleep quality and helps people with insomnia to fall asleep quickly.

Playing soothing music triggers your body to release dopamine, which boosts good feelings. Consistently doing this can help minimize racing thoughts, pains, and other issues affecting sleep quality.

What Does Science Say About Music and Anxiety?

Many studies support music’s effect in reducing anxiety and improving sleep. Recently, researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial on the effects of music and auditory beat stimulation on anxiety to determine the effectiveness of calm music in reducing anxiety.

Based on the results of the study, researchers concluded that sound-based treatments are particularly effective for reducing two anxiety types:

  • Cognitive state anxiety: People with this type of anxiety dwell on negative expectations, worry about potential consequences and are unduly concerned about situations or their inadequacies (real or perceived).
  • Somatic anxiety: This refers to the manifestation of anxiety symptoms in the body. People struggling with this type of anxiety are extremely focused on physical symptoms like fatigue, pain, and shortness of breath. This leaves them in serious emotional distress.

Finding Good Anxiety Relief Music

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the optimal music for anxiety and improved sleep. How your body responds to a particular piece of music will depend on your preferences in terms of genre, pitch, and tempo (or speed).

The good news is that you can create a playlist of your favorite songs, particularly those that have helped reduce anxious thoughts and increase relaxation in the past.

It is usually beneficial to choose music with tempos that fall between 60 and 80 beats per minute (BPM). The body may likely synchronize to these slower beats when you listen to slow-tempo songs, increasing your chances to relax fully.

However, if you want a curated playlist to help you quickly fall asleep and stay asleep, consider getting music specifically designed for that purpose.

We recommend Deep Sleep Music by Nature Sound Retreat on YouTube. It is over three hours of soothing music combined with beautiful falling feathers to help relax the mind and body, reduce stress and anxiety, and aid sleep.

Check out this guide for more anxiety relief music available on major streaming platforms like Apple, Spotify, and Amazon. 

How to Make Anxiety Relief Music Part of Your Sleep Routine

man listening to music while lying on bed

Incorporating sleep music into your bedtime routine can reduce anxiety symptoms and racing thoughts at night, allowing you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

Consider the following tips for creating good sleep hygiene, including calming nighttime music.

Find Enjoyable Music

Incorporating music into your evening routine will be more difficult if you listen to songs you don’t really enjoy.

Most people find slow-tempo songs relaxing, but you are not “most people.” Experimenting with different songs to see what works best for you is okay.

Choose Positive or Neutral Music

While you are at liberty to pick a song you consider soothing, it is best to avoid songs or music that triggers difficult emotions, especially during bedtime.

A 2019 study found that listening to sad music doesn’t only activate the emotional parts of the brain but also synchronizes them. This means they are likelier to work in greater harmony and create a stronger emotional response.

Now, that’s not something you want happening to you at bedtime, especially if you struggle with anxiety. Songs that call up strong emotions aren’t very helpful when you’re trying to sleep better.

We strongly recommend choosing positive or neutral songs as your anxiety relief music, regardless of the tempo.

Be Consistent

Once you find a song or specific playlist that works for you, play it every night.

We are creatures of habit ― we “teach” our brains how to behave, and with each repetition, we strengthen the neural pathways until the behavior sticks.

Make it a part of your bedtime routine to wind down by listening to the same calming playlist each night as you drift off to sleep.

Once this becomes your evening ritual, your body will automatically prepare to retire for the day once it hears your nighttime music.

A Quick Word About Sleeping With Earphones

Sleeping with earphones or headphones shuts out unwanted noises that may disturb your peaceful sleep. While this is generally a good thing, you want to be careful when sleeping with these pieces of hardware.

You could accidentally turn up the volume on your earphone while sleeping and damage your ear canal. Also, earbuds can significantly reduce air circulation in the ears, leading to hard wax buildup. If this happens, you may experience temporary hearing loss.

Consider playing your nightly anxiety relief music from a stereo or wireless speaker to avoid potential ear infections or hearing problems. Simply place the device near your bed and keep the volume at a non-disruptive level.