New research shows that slow-paced, instrumental music may not help you get to sleep. In fact, you might want to try your favorite energetic song instead. Per a study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE Wednesday (January 18), scientists say listening to your preferred music — even if it is energetic and has vocals — has better results in a more restful sleep compared to typical sleep sounds of rain and whale sounds.
Experts believe this is because there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to the kind of music people choose for sleep. In some cases, familiarity with the song may potentially aid relaxation. Kira Vibe Jespersen, an assistant professor at the Centre for Music in the Brain at Aarhus University in Denmark, said, “Our hypothesis is that familiarity with the music makes the music very predictable to the brain, and this predictability may enable sleep, despite the music being upbeat and energetic. We are currently working to test this hypothesis.”
For the study, Jespersen and her colleagues analyzed more than 200,000 tracks from nearly 1,000 playlists associated with sleep. Results showed these quieter and slower sleep tracks also included many songs with a higher degree of energy than the average sleep music. Songs like Billie Eilish and Khalid’s collaborative track “Lovely” and Korean boy band BTS’ “Dynamite” were among some of the featured tunes. Using this data, the researchers were able to identify six distinct sub-categories of music that people listen to for sleep.
Jespersen said of the findings, “I was surprised by the amount of variation in the music that people choose to listen to for sleep. I was expecting some degree of variation, but not that much.” She added that without any sleep data from the users, the team cannot be certain whether music with a higher degree of energy helps induce sleep, but added that consciously choosing music that helps with relaxation and masks external sounds can be beneficial. The researchers said their findings could “both inform the clinical use of music and advance our understanding of how music is used to regulate human behavior in everyday life.”