Is it Good or Bad to Listen to Music While Trying to Sleep?

Music can potentially help you to sleep better, but it depends on the type of music you are listening to. If you are going to throw on some heavy metal or upbeat pop music, this will likely have the opposite effect.

Studies do show that some types of music, like classical, can activate both the left and right brain at the same time. This results in maximized learning and improved memory. But, what about sleep? Does listening to classical music when you’re asleep have the same effect?

There are so many questions that we could ask about listening to music while we are sleeping. Does listening to music while sleeping affect your dreams? Does it help you to memorize the music? Can you actually hear the music while you are sleeping? Most importantly, is listening to music while sleeping soothing and relaxing or does it prevent you from getting a good night of rest?

The number of questions we could ask on the topic are endless. Let’s start by weighing the benefits of listening to music during sleep with the disadvantages of listening to music during sleep. Well, the efficacy of music during sleep depends on many factors: how heavy a sleeper you are, and not least, what kind of music you like.

The point of this guide is to explain what happens if you sleep while listening to music. Studies show that sleeping with music can help to improve both sleep quality and quantity. Putting on some tunes at night can help you to fall asleep more quickly. It can also help you wake less in the night and feel more refreshed in the morning.

Unfortunately, these benefits don’t happen overnight. But after a few weeks, you should definitely start to reap the advantages.  So let’s take a quick look at some of the other benefits of music playing while sleeping.

Music Helps You Relax Before Sleep

Studies have shown that music can actively help you to relax and fall asleep.

Like listening to music while studying this is, of course, not the case for all music. If you were to throw on the latest dance hit, chances are it’s going to pump up your energy, not put you to sleep. But music with a relatively slow beat can help you wind down.

  • Tip: Listening to meditation music is the ideal example. But if you don’t enjoy that, anything with a slow, calming beat will do. Classical music also works like a charm. And if you can opt for music without words; the less the music makes you think, the better.

So how does it work? According to research, the tempo of the music can actually slow your heart rate. In fact, most researchers suggest that you should choose music of approximately 60 beats per minute. Why? Because the music actually “tunes” your heart. So, if you are listening to music with 60 beats per minute, your heart will soon drop to that same rate (60 beats per minute), which is ideal for sleeping conditions.

Who can benefit from hearing music while sleeping? Well, let’s just say that lullabies aren’t just for babies. Children, teenagers, adults, and seniors can all benefit from listening to music. And those with chronic sleep problems, such as people who work night shifts? Many different studies have shown that it can help you too.

Music Affects Your Dreams

Just as music can impact your sleep, it can also impact your dreams. Have you ever fallen asleep to your favorite movie, just to find that you start dreaming about? Your dreams reflect whatever it is you were listening to or watching. If you are watching a romance movie, you may find that you meet the partner of your dreams in your actual dream. If you are watching a thriller, you might become an all-action hero.

That’s because our minds are still active as we sleep. Just as the things you watch before bed can influence your dreams, so can the things you think about. So, if you’ve been worrying about something all day, and it was on your mind before you went to sleep, your worries might ‘come to life’ as you dream. The whole point is that just as the things you think can influence your dreams, so can the things you hear. So, for example, if you want to dream of the ocean, try putting on some soothing ocean music.

You might not think this is too important, and for you, it might not be. But anybody who has recurring nightmares and dreams that make them restless will understand. Does the kind of music you play make a difference? Of course, it does.

Listening to sounds from a specific environment can help to trigger related dreams. So if you want to dream of the jungle, throw on some meditative nature music. Just make sure the music is low enough that it isn’t going to wake you once you fall asleep.

Music Helps You Sleep More Deeply

For restless sleepers, the easiest way to achieve a good night of rest is to use over the counter medicine. But that’s not something that all of us want to do. Most people want to try everything that they can to get the problem to go away by themselves, before resorting to either medical or natural help. That’s why music is such a powerful sleep aid.

But how does hearing music while sleeping help? In a number of ways:

  1. It prepares you physiologically for sleep. This goes back to what we were speaking about earlier in the guide. Studies have shown that your heart actually tunes to the beat of the music. So if you are listening to music with a rate of 60 beats per minute, your heart rate will eventually slow to that rate as well. In return, your body calms and you are able to get a better night of rest.
  2. It frees your minds of worries. “I need to get that paper finished by Tuesday.” “The house is such a mess.” “How am I ever going to finish all of my work on time?” We all have our daily worries, and most of us have a hard time shutting them off when we lay down to sleep. In fact, that’s usually when our mind is most focused on our worries. But when we put music on, it helps our mind deactivate. Instead of focusing on everything you need to do tomorrow, you can just focus on the music. And as your mind starts to focus, your body will begin to calm.
  3. It affects our hormones. Slow tempo music has been shown to affect the circulation of norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is directly related to sleep. So, by reducing our sympathetic nervous system activity, music relaxes your body.

Music Can Improve Your Memory

Listening to music while sleeping with headphones can improve your memory skills.

Before we tell you how we have to define something you might not have encountered before: “brain oscillations”. A brain oscillation is the repetitive and rhythmic electrical activity in the brain that is generated in response to a particular stimulus. They are often studied by sleep researchers to monitor how our brain responds to different stimuli when sleeping.

While we sleep, our brain oscillations slow. And researchers have found that if we can synchronize the rate of our music with the rate of our oscillations, we can actually improve our memory.  Scientists have long known that slow brain oscillations are critical for memory retention. And by synchronizing our sounds with that of our oscillations, we can improve that retention on a daily basis.

Having said that, the type of music you are listening to is again the key. A study by Dr. Jan Born, from the University of Tubingen (Germany), studied the brain oscillations of 11 different people while they were sleeping. When participants were exposed to sound/music that was in sync with the brains slow oscillation rhythm, memory retention was better the next day. But when the rhythm did not match, memory retention was not improved.

It Can Help Musicians

We all know that a good night of rest is important for everyone. And if you are a musician trying to learn new music, you are not exempt from this rule. Learning new skills requires a high degree of focus and attention. And when you are sleep deprived, your focus and attention suffer drastically. So does your memory and recall. So for a musician, getting a full night of rest is extremely important.

But does sleeping with music headphones provide any additional benefits over a good night of rest? And does listening to music while sleeping help you to memorize it? According to science, yes, it does! Apparently, if you have been practicing a piece of music, listening to that music while you sleep can help you retain it.

During one specific study, 16 musicians had 2 melodies to memorize. They were each allowed to have a 90-minute nap. During this nap, one of the melodies was played on repeat during a slow-wave sleep. Upon waking up, researchers asked participants to play the music. The ability to play both melodies improved after a nap. Still, accuracy was better for the melody they were listening to in their sleep.

Again, the slow sleep wave cycle is extremely important in this process. There is no doubt that memory processing happens while we sleep. It seems, however, that we can improve that memory even more-so when we hear things during a slow-wave cycle.

Listening To Music While Sleeping With Headphones: Why Not?

There are so many benefits that come along with relaxing and soothing music. But, if we want to make a fair judgment, we also need to discuss the reasons why it might not be the best idea for you. While we have found many reasons to listen to music, we have only found a few reasons not to.

As much as music may help you sleep, it can also be disruptive. And though you may love hearing music playing while sleeping, your partner may not. And the result? A grouchy partner, which is the last thing you need if you want some peace and quiet.

Let’s look at these two factors in more detail:

Listening to Music Can Disrupt Your Sleep

We’ve all had the experience of being in a dead sleep just to be woken by a loud noise. If you are a light sleeper, it might not even need to be a loud noise to wake you. So if noise wakes us up, then how could listening to music possibly be beneficial for our sleep?

Again, the answer goes back to one of our original questions – “does the kind of music you play make a difference?” Soft, relaxing music can definitely help you to fall asleep quicker. It can also improve your sleep quality. But if you are putting on upbeat music that would normally make you want to dance and get active, it’s going to have the opposite effect.

sleeping with music headphones

Quite obviously, the volume of the music you are listening to will also affect your sleep. If the music is too loud, it will wake you. So it is best to listen to a quiet background music. Similarly, the noise variability of the music you choose can affect your sleep quality.

If the noise level is extremely variable, it is likely to disrupt your sleep pattern. So an album that starts out quiet, but has that loud, upbeat number at the end is going to be no good for you.

But, if you can find meditative music or something similar that provides a steady background noise, it is unlikely to have the same effect. Instead of waking you, it will improve your sleep quality. So, music does have the ability to disrupt your sleep patterns.

With that said, you can decrease this likelihood by listening to soft music that doesn’t change either tempo or volume too much. It’s the same idea behind using a white noise machine, which produces steady white noise to drown out other sounds.

It is Disruptive to Your Partner

If you have a partner that you sleep with, this is a given. Not everybody likes to fall asleep to music. And even if you tell your partner the benefits of listening to music before you sleep, it doesn’t mean that they will want to listen to it too. All you’re doing is setting yourself up for arguments.

If your partner doesn’t sleep properly because of your music, there is a long list of negative effects.

  • Example: Research has shown that disrupted sleep may be equally as detrimental as getting no sleep at all. In one study, 61 adults were monitored at home using wristband devices. These devices were able to detect when the person was awake vs. when they were asleep. On certain nights, the participants were awoken by regular phone calls. On other nights they were able to get a full night of rest. Each morning thereafter they were asked to complete a set of computer-related tasks that required them to be alert and attentive. Results showed that there was a direct link between disrupted sleep and lowered attention span. Participants also reported being more depressed and fatigued after a disputed sleep.

Of course, poor attention span isn’t the only problem associated with a disrupted sleep. Research has also shown that when you do not sleep properly:

  • Your focus isn’t as sharp.
  • Your memory retention decreases.
  • Amyloid proteins (linked to Alzheimer’s disease) build up in the brain.
  • Your mood is negatively affected and you are more likely to report depression.

So if you are listening to music and it affects your partners sleep quality, you could be asking for trouble the next day. Luckily, there are headphones for that.

Tips On How To Sleep With Music

Wear Headphones

If you’re worried about your music affecting the quality of your partner’s sleep, the answer is simple: invest in a pair of headphones! Sleeping with headphones will allow you to listen to whatever you like, while at the same time allowing your partner to sleep in silence.

Of course, we would not recommend a large pair of headphones, because these would not be comfortable to wear to bed. But there are a variety of different kinds designed specifically for sleeping.

These include (but are not limited to):

  • Smart Pillows – Described as “invisible headphones” that you can slip on or under your pillow.
  • Generic headphones – you can avoid big, bulky headsets and find compact pairs that you could sleep comfortably in.
  • Earbuds – These are much smaller in size. They can be worn throughout the day, but are great for at night too, especially because they generate less noise for your partner. The wire may be a problem, however.
  • Wireless earbuds – Eliminate the hassle of a cord, with all the benefits of earphones.

listening to music while sleeping with headphones

Spend Time Picking What You Listen To

We spoke a little bit about this above. The type of music you choose is directly going to impact the benefits that you receive. Ideally, you should choose music that is between 60-80 beats per minute. Music at this range has the power to slow down your heart rate, slow down your breathing, and lower your blood pressure.

There is even some evidence to suggest that it can help to relax your muscles. These bodily changes, of course, are the same changes that we experience when we fall asleep. So by listening to relaxing music, we can induce ourselves into a quicker sleep.

Listening to meditative music while sleeping is ideal. The only problem is that that genre isn’t for everyone. If you like something more classically relaxing—try classical music. If you’d prefer something cooler, jazz or folk music at a slow tempo might be for you. Electronic music can also be a good choice. Spend time going through your music collection, and make a playlist from the songs or albums you think might work for you.

Choose Music with No Words

While listening to music without words is not a necessity, it is the best choice. Music with words makes us think. If we know the words, we are probably singing along with them. If we don’t know the words, we’re at least listening to them. And either way, the words of each song may ignite different memories or emotions.

Of course, once these memories or emotions become triggered, they may start to make our mind wander. Listening to music without words can help us avoid this. And this is only one of the reasons why listening to classical music while sleeping may be more beneficial than listening to pop or rock music.

Our top tip is to invest in a good pair of headphones and start listening to some relaxing music while you sleep. To recap, listening to classical music while sleeping (or other slow-paced music) holds many benefits. Not only does it help you to relax, but it can also improve your overall sleep quality. Music can also influence your dreams, and improve your memory. This quality comes in especially handy for musicians who are trying to memorize music or avoid recurring bad dreams.

Like anything else, listening to music isn’t all beneficial. If you listen to the wrong type of music, it can disrupt your sleep instead of enhancing it. This is why researchers suggest that you choose music with a beat of between 60-80 beats per minute. When you do, your heart will align with this rate and help you to relax.

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