Is Work Stress Keeping You Up At Night? Music Therapy Might Be Able to Help

Most Adults Experience Some Form Of Work Stress. Can Music Therapy Help Individuals Manage Stress That Might Be Keeping Them Up At Night?

We’ve all had nights where we just can’t fall asleep, no matter what we do. When you have a busy work schedule or lots of responsibilities in your personal life, getting irregular or inconsistent sleep can take a serious toll on your emotional and physical well-being. 

Is the stress of your work life making it hard for you to relax and get sleep? Music therapy might just be the solution to your involuntary all-nighters.

a woman sleeping next to her iPhone
Music is used in many different activities — but can it be used to help us fall asleep? 

Does Music Help You Fall Asleep?

If you’re a parent, you know that soothing music and lullabies are great for helping children fall asleep. While infants and children benefit from night-time music, they’re not the only people who can reap the rewards of  music before bed. Across all age groups, people report higher quality sleep after listening to calming music. 

Adults participating in a study where they listened to 45 minutes of music before going to sleep reported having higher quality sleep — and these quality changes began on the first night. Additionally, this sleep benefit had a cumulative effect on the adult participants: the more often the adults incorporated music into their nightly routine, the more their sleep quality improved. 

Similarly, listening to music before bed can also decrease the time it takes to fall asleep. One study of women with insomnia had participants play a self-selected album while they got into bed for 10 consecutive nights. Before incorporating music into their night-time routine, the study participants reported that it took 27 to 69 minutes to fall asleep. After music was added to their night-time routines, the participants reported that it only took six to 13 minutes to fall asleep. 

Another benefit of playing music before bed is that it improves sleep efficiency. While listening to music at night can help you fall asleep more quickly and can improve your sleep quality, music at bed-time can also make sure that the time you’re in bed is actually spent sleeping. When a person improves their sleep efficiency, they wake up less during the course of the night and receive more consistent rest. 

a woman lying on a couch wearing headphones
Our brains process sounds in specific ways. If you’re looking to include music and music therapy into your night-time routine, it can be beneficial to know how music impacts sleep. 

How Does Music Affect Sleep? 

Hearing music involves a series of complex steps that change sound waves in the air into electrical signals. From here, auditory nerves then carry these signals to the brain. 

As our brains interpret sounds, many other physical effects are instigated within our bodies. Some of these effects directly assist with falling asleep and reducing problems that disrupt sleep. 

One way that music can enhance sleep is through the regulation of hormones, specifically cortisol — the human stress hormone. When you’re experiencing stress from work, your elevated cortisol levels lead to increased alertness and poor sleep. 

When you listen to music, your cortisol levels decrease. As a result, music can help people relax and release stress — two things that are essential for falling and staying asleep. Music also triggers the release of dopamine, the pleasure hormone. Dopamine helps to boost positive feelings before you go to bed and relieve pain so that you are not kept up by physical discomforts. Overall, music can address sleep issues by reducing acute and chronic physical pain. 

Music and the Autonomic Nervous System

Listening to music before bed also helps to soothe your autonomic nervous system — the part of your body that is responsible for controlling automatic and unconscious processes. By calming parts of this nervous system, including heart, lung, and digestive system functions, music improves an individual’s sleep. When your autonomic nervous system is calm, you’ll experience:

  • Slower breathing
  • A lower heart rate
  • Reduced blood pressure 

All of these biological changes that promote better sleep can be achieved through listening to calming music at night. 

a woman asleep next to her phone playing music
If you’re looking to incorporate music into your evening schedule, there are a few important things to keep in mind. 

Making Music Part of Your Night-Time Routine

Interested in incorporating music into your evening routine? There are many ways to use music to relax and unwind before going to sleep. 

Pursuing Music Therapy

While some people might want to create their own before-bed playlists, other people experiencing excessive stress might want to participate in formal music therapy sessions. When you work with a music therapist, you can assess your individual needs and create a specific treatment plan. 

Similar to musical practices that you could independently incorporate into your night-time routine, music therapy can involve listening to music — but it can also involve creating music. With a more structured approach, you can guarantee that you are participating in an evening routine that will maximize the quality of your sleep, as well as your mental and physical well-being. 

Finding The Right Songs

Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting music to listen to or when you create a night-time playlist:

  • Pick slower songs - Your body and brain are very responsive to music’s rhythm and tempo. If you want to get your body ready to go to sleep, be sure to listen to songs that have a rhythm of about 60-80 beats per minute. When listening to music, your heart rate gradually adjusts to match the slower tempo of the music. Your breathing will slow, which will then help you fall asleep. 
  • Listen to songs without lyrics - When listening to songs with lyrics, your mind will naturally want to follow along. Avoiding songs with lyrics can help you avoid excessive mental stimulation that will keep you awake. 
  • Avoid music that will trigger strong emotions - In order to fall asleep, you need to relax — and listening to music that you associate with strong emotions or emotional memories will do the exact opposite of helping you calm down. Avoiding music that triggers intense emotions, whether they’re happy or sad feelings, is a good idea for decreasing stress and increasing quality sleep.
a man leaning back in his chair at his desk
Sometimes, stress from work can feel like an inevitable part of life. But with music and music therapy, individuals can manage overwhelming feelings that interfere with sleep. 

Getting quality sleep is a crucial part of maintaining a person’s physical and mental health. If excessive work stress is keeping you awake during the night, incorporating music and music therapy into your routine might be the best way to ensure you’re getting the rest you need.

Annabeth Collis
Annabeth Collis is a writer from Buffalo, NY.
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