The Best Music for Sleep Playlists

Good and bad songs for sleeping, according to science

Robert Roy Britt
5 min readJan 18, 2023

--

Some people prefer total silence for a good night’s sleep. Others like some white noise. And music is the answer for many. Yet while some experts sing the praises of music as a sleep aid, the science is not yet in total harmony.

“Music has a solid evidence base as one of the better-researched non-pharmacological sleep aids that can improve an individual’s sleep, both in terms of insomnia and the quality of sleep,” says Thomas Dickson, PhD, a music psychology researcher at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

A 2021 study reviewing five separate clinical trials supports that view, finding that music before bedtime significantly improved sleep quality in people 60 and older. But a separate, compelling experiment, which we’ll get to below, suggests some types of music at bedtime can have the opposite effect.

When music does improve sleep, it’s thought to be due to its relaxing effect, reducing stress and anxiety by slowing the heart rate and breathing rate and lowering blood pressure — all of which, according to other research, is known to help you fall asleep faster and enjoy more efficient, effective, restorative sleep.

What’s on your sleep playlist?

What types of music will work best for you is open to experimentation. In general, calm songs with smooth melodies tend to be more helpful than faster, louder, more rhythmic music, the 2021 study found.

In other research, Dickson and a colleague took a more subjective approach to the question, asking people about the music that they think helps them fall asleep.

“The music had quite a dark mix, it was legato, and was not complex or strong in rhythmic activity,” Dickson said. In the legato style, notes flow together smoothly, as in a Mozart piano concerto or the stuff of massage or elevator music.

However, a new study, published today in the journal PLOS One, took yet a different approach, analyzing the characteristics of songs on 985 global Spotify playlists associated with sleep. The choices vary widely, explains study team member Kira Jespersen, PhD, an assistant professor in the Center for Music…

--

--

Robert Roy Britt

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB