Remember when you used to sing your kids to sleep with a lullaby? Those soothing melodies would always calm them down, slow their minds, and help them drift off to sleep. As it turns out, something similar might help, too.
In a recent review published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers from the National Cheng Kung University Hospital in Taiwan set out to determine how music could affect sleep quality in adults. They analyzed five randomized, controlled studies, all of which focused on older adults who lived at home and suffered from various sleep problems. Though the studies varied significantly in length, as the shortest lasted two days and the longest lasted three months, they all followed a similar testing setup.
In each study, the participants were split into two groups: those that listened to music and those that didn’t. Neither group received any additional treatment for their sleep problems. Participants in the music group were further divided into those that listened to sedative music, characterized by a slow tempo and a smooth melody, or rhythmic music, which had a faster tempo and louder instruments. All music listeners received 30 minutes to 1 hour of music therapy at bedtime. In addition, the quality of sleep was measured using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), which is a detailed questionnaire that can be used to diagnose sleep issues.
In analyzing the data from all the studies, the research team compared participants who listened to music to those who did not. They also looked at the effects of calming music versus rhythmic music, and whether a longer duration of music therapy had any added benefit.
The team found that older adults who listened to music reported significantly better sleep as compared to older adults who didn’t listen to any music. What’s more, those who listened to sedative music had even better sleep than those who listened to rhythmic music.
Why might older adults need music in their sleep routine? According to the researchers, 40 to 70 percent of older adults suffer from sleep issues that worsen with age. Many of these issues are caused by changes in circadian rhythm, or the body’s natural sleep-and-wake cycle. Other sleep issues are caused by health conditions that typically affect older adults, such as depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
As a result, it’s important to find ways to improve your sleep as you get older. Music may be a particularly useful tool because it’s free and doesn’t require a prescription. Plus, it has physical benefits. Researchers believe that soft melodies help regulate the release of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, and thus subdue feelings of anxiety and stress.
“Music intervention is an effective strategy and is easy to administer by a caregiver or health care worker,” the researchers added. “Music therapy might be the first line of therapy to recommend in older adults with sleep disturbances, which would reduce the need for or dependence on sedatives and sleeping medication.” The next time you’re having a bad nights’ sleep, try turning on some gentle music. Focus on the calming melodies instead of your everyday stressors, and you’ll be asleep before you know it.