Main content

Can music help me sleep better?

Britain is a nation struggling to sleep, and a third of us suffer poor quality sleep on a regular basis. Many of us listen to music – but does it really help? Dr Alain Gregoire visited one of the UK’s leading sleep centres at the University of Lincoln to put this to the test.

The research

Research has so far shown that music improves the sleep of older people and those with insomnia. Dr Simon Durrant has been running a study at the University of Lincoln to test whether this could work for all of us – and whether it makes a difference if the music has lyrics.

The experiment

The study had three groups – no music, music with lyrics, and music without lyrics. Alain volunteered to take part in the study himself, and was randomly allocated to the music with lyrics group. Before taking part, he had to record his normal sleep patterns. Then he had to try to nap for two hours with music with lyrics playing throughout.

For the duration of the two-hour period, Alain was connected to an EEG machine to measure his brain activity. These tests would reveal whether he achieved two important phases of sleep: deep sleep, needed to rest and recuperate; or REM sleep – the phase when you have rapid eye movements and vividly dream, which is needed to lay down memories

Alain’s Results

Alain struggled to get to sleep, and didn’t go into either deep sleep or REM sleep. But how did his results compare with others in his own group, and with the other two groups – music with no lyrics, and no music at all?

Group Results

Music with lyrics proved to be disruptive: Alain’s group took longest to get to sleep overall, taking 22 minutes. This compared with 15 minutes for no music at all. However, those who listened to music without lyrics took the least time of all – just over 10 minutes, suggesting that music without lyrics actually helps you fall asleep.

However, once the participants were asleep, both kinds of music reduced the amount of sleep the participants got, as well as the quality, with participants experiencing less deep and REM sleep if any kind of music was playing.

So what should I do?

Try listening to music without lyrics to help you get to sleep. However, set your system so it switches the music off again shortly after you go to sleep. This way, it won’t interfere with the deeper sleep you need for a healthy body and mind.