For 50 to 70 million Americans, the sleep struggle is real, reports the National Institute of Health. It’s more than just losing precious shut-eye, which is the case for a third of Americans who get fewer than 7 hours per night. The problem is also falling—and staying—asleep. If you’re up late at night three times a week for a month (or longer), you may suffer from acute or chronic insomnia, a common sleep disorder affecting about 30 percent of adults, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
One way to help remedy this sleep crisis and catch more zzz’s is to listen to soothing music in bed. That’s what 40 women reported in a study comparing sleep-inducing songs, including artists like Mozart and Coldplay, according to 2011 research from the Mindlab Institute. One track in particular, however, made them all extra drowsy. The eight-minute snooze-fest called “Weightless” by the British band Marconi Union, made in collaboration with sound therapists, was specifically engineered to decrease stress, blood pressure, and resting heart rates using beautifully arranged harmonies featuring the guitar, piano, and the electronic samples of natural soundscapes.
The British Academy of Sound Therapy called “Weightless” the “most relaxing song ever” and Time magazine named it one of the best inventions of the year. Since its release on SoundCloud, more than 6 million have tuned in and probably subsequently passed out. Give it a listen tonight (or watch the video below) and see what happens.
If this is not your jam, try Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” instead. Last year, the free digital music service Spotify went through nearly 3 million user-generated sleep-themed playlists and found that Sheeran’s song dominated the charts worldwide.
Listening to soothing music with slower melodies can have a biological effect on our bodies, explains Jose Colon, M.D., author of The Sleep Diet: A Novel Approach to Insomnia, who did not work on this study. Certain songs can help slow your heart and breath rate, which in turn, can slow down your brain activity, too, confirms a 2010 study published in the Journal of Hypertension. When your heart rate slows, your mind follows suit, which will put you in the state of relaxation that you need for sleep, Colon says.
As you might suspect, one’s bedtime music is a matter of personal taste. Something to consider as you build your own sleep playlist is that your current music library might not have what you need. What you listen to when you work out or need a pick-me-up is the opposite of sleep music. “If you listen to certain artists or songs when you’re trying to stay alert while driving or when you’re exercising, subconsciously, you’re associating that music with alertness,” Colon says.
Instead, search for songs elsewhere, like Google Play Music, which has over 50 sleep playlists. The site’s most popular sleep playlists include: Sleepytime Indie, Fall Asleep, Classical for Sleeping, Ladies Serenading You to Sleep, and Acoustic Bedtime. Some of the songs have no lyrics, so you can drift off to soothing audio, says Google Play Music curator Brady Hayward. For the “Fall Asleep” playlist, music curators make sure none of the songs feature drums unless they’re brushed drums like in Nora Jones’ “Come Away with Me,” he adds.
While listening to relaxing classical music has proven in research published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing to help people with sleep problems improve their quality of rest, the key component to keep in mind here is relaxing. “What’s tricky with classical music is that it tends to have much wider dynamic range than jazz, pop, electronic, and other types of music, so the difference in volume between the softest and loudest parts of a ‘song’ are much more noticeable,” says Hayward. “Even a classical song that is quiet for 80 percent of the duration but gets loud for two small parts won’t work for a sleep-focused playlist.”
Tonight, start off with our sleep playlist, based on the most popular sleep songs according to Spotify, and then modify it as you see fit. Don’t forget to turn off all notifications (especially social media, emails, and text messages) on your device, and place it facedown so you’re not exposed to the blue light, which has been shown to disrupt sleep, Colon warns. Use your device’s sleep timer so that the music goes off long after you’ve arrived in slumberland.
Sonima’s Sleep Playlist
1. Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
2. All of Me – John Legend
3. Earned It (from Fifty Shades of Grey) –The Weeknd
4. Let Her Go – Passenger
5. Skinny Love – Birdy
6. Say Something – A Great Big World, Christina Aguilera
7. FourFiveSeconds – Rihanna, Paul McCartney, Kanye West
8. Fix You – Coldplay
9. Photograph – Ed Sheeran
10. Latch (Acoustic) – Sam Smith
Join Sonima’s free 14-day jumpstart to better sleep for a downloadable guide and daily advice from top experts. Learn more here.
By Diana Kelly