Music Therapy and Sleep (Lullabies Really Work!)

How Music Regulates Your Sleeping Patterns

Doctors prescribe thousands of sleep aids a year. Of those thousand(s), many have side effects and are addictive. Music, itself, acts as a natural sleep aid, and its only side effect is that you might have to buy Spotify Premium.

In this post, we will discuss the use of music therapy for:

  • Normal sleeping patterns
  • Insomnia
  • Sleep Apnea

And a few ways you can use music therapeutically at home.

Music for a Good Night’s Sleep

Do you ever feel yourself drifting off to sleep when listening to smooth jazz or a symphony? On one hand, you might just despise jazz. On the other hand, this is likely because the slow beat relaxes you.

A man in a white shirt falls asleep with headphones on.
It is recommended to pick songs with 80 BPM or lower for ideal results. Image courtesy of Healevate.

According to the Sleep Foundation, music directly affects your parasympathetic nervous system (which is in charge of relaxation and sleep). Listening to music mimics some of the exact changes your body goes through when falling asleep -- a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, and muscle relaxation. Older adults who listen to 45 minutes of relaxing music are proven to fall asleep faster, longer, and wake up less frequently during the night.

Getting into the habit of listening to music before bed can eventually train your body to sleep better -- letting you wake up more refreshed, rested, and ready to brace the day.

Music Therapy for Insomnia

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is defined as having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even in a preferred sleeping environment.

A man wearing glasses and a gray shirt falls asleep at his desk..
Other medical issues like heart disease can cause insomnia. Image courtesy of Liquid I.V.

There are two types of insomnia -- acute and chronic. Acute insomnia is short-term and usually caused by disturbances in life such as a final exam or medical testing. Chronic Insomnia is much more serious and occurs at least three nights a week -- this is where your sleep habits become more clinical and you may need to seek medical help.

Someone who is experiencing insomnia may show one or more of these symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood disturbances
  • Decreased performance in work or at school

How can Music Therapy Help?

According to a recent study by Aarhus University, music is proven to help those with insomnia.

“We included six studies with a total of 314 participants. The studies examined the effect of listening to recorded music at bedtime for 25-60 minutes daily in a period of 3-35 days. Five of the studies measured sleep quality and the overall result indicates that music can improve the quality of sleep for adults with sleep disorders,” -- Ph.D. student Kira Vibe Jespersen of the Aarhus University study.

Another study concerning sleep disorders showed that listening to music consistently for three weeks before bed proved to be successful to those with acute and chronic insomnia.

A music therapy assessment for insomnia may look something like this:

  • Layering music into a consecutive listening program
  • Allowing some patient-selected music
  • Designing an easeful wake-sleep transition
  • Incorporating psychological methods

Music for Sleep Apnea

What is Sleep Apnea?

Do you get a full night’s sleep, but still feel tired in the morning? Do you snore loudly? You may have sleep apnea. This potentially dangerous sleep disorder is marked by repeatedly starting and stopping breathing during the night. It is likely that you don’t know you have it until you get a sleep study done.

A man sleeps on a white bed while wearing a CPAP machine mask.
People with sleep apnea may be instructed to use a CPAP machine. Image courtesy of Medical News Today.

There are three main types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive - the most common form where the throat muscles relax when sleeping.
  • Central - occurs when the brain sends incorrect signals to the breathing muscles.
  • Complex - a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea

How can Music Therapy Help?

A recent study by Dr. Christopher P. Ward, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston Clearlake,  observed that musicians who play woodwind instruments are at a significantly lower risk of sleep apnea.

A woman in a black formal outfit plays the oboe in concert.
Music therapy often involves instrumental experimentation. Image courtesy of Band Director.

Using this information, a connection in music therapy science was made between playing double reed instruments and sleep apnea -- the muscle movements. By taking the same muscle movements an oboe player uses, exercises were constructed for everyday people with sleep apnea.

The study “Effects of Oropharyngeal Exercises on Patients with Moderate Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome,” written by Katia C. Guimaraes further proved the connection between these exercises and a better night’s sleep for sleep apnea patients. A total of eight out of 16 patients saw their sleep apnea lesson and two saw it disappear completely.

The exact set of exercises can be viewed at Sleep Apnea Guide.

Music Therapy at Home Tips


Often, a music therapist will talk about shifting your mindset from problems to solutions. In this case, you must stop thinking about sleep and just do it. One way they accomplish this is by having a patient intently focus on the music. This stops those racing thoughts and directs all attention to the vibrations and tones of the lulling sounds.

When you’re settling down for the night, try not to think about your busy day. Instead, put on some relaxing tunes and just listen. Soon, you will find yourself completely relaxed.

Deep Breathing

Another essential part of relaxation is our breath patterns. When music is aided by a breathing coach, it becomes incredibly powerful. Many therapists instruct their patients on when to take deep breaths while playing music or listening to it.

At home, you can try listening to meditations. Usually, they are accompanied by music but if they are not, play some soft beats in the background for better results.

Music therapy reduces stress and anxiety through chemical alterations. Image courtesy of Ladders.

Music is an organic alternative to sleeping supplements that offers so much and has no drawbacks. Try practicing these music exercises at home and if you enjoy it, consider talking to a music therapist. If you have any of the above conditions, music therapy is a consequence-free option -- there’s no harm in trying a lullaby.

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 17, 2021

Jessica Fortunato
Jessica Fortunato is a writer who also enjoys photography, music, and hiking.
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