The Best Songs to Help You Sleep, According to Science
Forget counting sheep! Add these relaxing tunes to your playlist and you'll be catching 40 winks in no time.
Music can make you laugh, make you cry, give you chills, shake your booty, or—as anyone who has ever attended an evening performance at the symphony knows too well—put you to sleep. Emerging research from sleep scientists around the world says that there’s a good reason for this, and now you can exploit it to make your own bedtime even cozier.
Music has been used in healing ceremonies for thousands of years and across cultures—but more recently, it’s been seriously studied as a sleeping aid. Researchers in a study in Taiwan found that study participants who listened to music for 45 minutes before bed every night for three weeks fell asleep more quickly, slept more deeply, and felt better the next morning. Those findings are consistent with several other studies, along with one intriguing observation: The songs they listened to were all set at tempos between 60 and 80 beats per minute—our approximate heart rate when falling asleep.
That’s right: You can literally trick your body into relaxing by syncing your heart rate with peaceful music. In this way, listening to music becomes a form of meditation; by mindfully listening to your surroundings, your heart rate slows, your blood pressure lowers, your anxiety abates, and life becomes a peaceful song. (Here are more secrets for a good night’s sleep.)
Of course, the same is true of energetic music: The Royal Automobile Club Foundation for Motoring ranked Wagner’s “Ride of The Valkyries” as the world’s most dangerous song for motorists, thanks to a frenzied tempo (nearly 100 bpm) that challenges drivers’ normal sense of speed. (Saying “Sorry, officer, I was just Wagner-ing” probably is not going to get you out of a speeding ticket.)
Armed with findings about the irresistible link between backbeat and heartbeat, sleep therapists have even begun collaborating with musicians to create what could become known to history as the chillest music ever. A few years back, the English trio known as Marconi Union worked with the British Academy of Sound Therapy to create an eight-minute instrumental track called “Weightless,” designed to lull the listener into relaxation through proven heart-rate-lowering sounds and tempos (beginning at 60 bpm, and stealthily slowing to 50 bpm by the end).
And it worked, too. In a recent UK study, participants challenged with solving difficult puzzles while listening to various types of music showed a whopping 65 percent reduction in anxiety (and therefore an improvement in performance) while listening to “Weightless.” (That pretty much makes “Weightless” the anti-Valkyrie.) As an addendum, study moderator Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International even said: “I would advise against driving while listening to the song because it could be dangerous.”
Want to boost your relaxation before bedtime? Make this your official playlist of music to help you fall asleep:
- “Weightless” by Marconi Union
- “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy
- “Canzonetta Sul’aria” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- “Nocturne in E Flat Major Op. 9 No. 2” by Frederic Chopin
- “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel
Now that you know the best music to help you fall asleep, check out our ultimate sleep hygiene checklist.