We live in a world filled with unnatural blue light, excessive noise, digital screens, and a near-total negation of the natural circadian rhythms our bodies need to function optimally. As a result, countless people are facing sleep issues. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) declared sleep deprivation a public health crisis.

“As a nation we are not getting enough sleep,” says Wayne Giles, M.D., director of the CDC’s Division of Population Health. A 2016 study by the CDC reported that more than one-third of US adults don’t get the recommended amount of sleep each night. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society recommend that adults ages eighteen to sixty sleep at least seven hours each night to promote optimal health and wellbeing. Sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress. Furthermore, sleep deprivation poses threats to mood, cognitive performance, and one’s capacity to sustain vigilance to activities. 

The financial impact is an estimated 1.23 million days of lost work per year and an annual economic cost of almost $400B USD. Add over 70,000 injuries due to drowsy driving each year to the physical, mental, and emotional toll on individuals suffering from sleep deprivation. The issue has gotten out of control.


The Wrong Prescription?

Another CDC survey suggested a 293 percent increase in the number of sleep-related prescriptions, from 5.3 to 20.8 million prescriptions, between 1999 and 2010. Pharmaceutical sleep aids, however, have been linked to negative side effects that increase with long-term use. These include nausea, dizziness, dependency, amnesia, and even seizures and an increase in mortality. Given the prevalence and potentially harmful side effects of pharmaceutical sleep aids, the search for low-cost, non-pharmaceutical alternatives has become a priority.

Armed with indisputable scientific evidence and the frustration of sleepless nights, we are driven to explore new and non-pharmaceutical approaches to help preserve that priceless treasure known as sleep.

Among the keys to that sleep treasure chest are sound and music. 

Music and Sleep

With the advent of digital music services, you now have unprecedented access to music. Literally thousands of musical composers and brands offer music that promises to blissfully escort you to a field of dreams. 

How does this work? And more importantly, how can you make it work for you?

The Phases of Sleep

When we speak about music and sleep, it’s helpful to break the sleep experience into three distinct phases. These phases differ from the four to six stages that take place during sleep (including REM and NREM sleep). The three primary phases, as they relate to music and sleep, include:

  • SLEEP PREPARATION: helping with sleep onset
  • SLEEP: those treasured hours between nighttime shutdown and morning rising
  • WAKING UP: transition into the activities of your day

How you treat each of these phases can have a significant impact on the critical brain processing that takes place during a healthy night’s sleep, and the often-overlooked transitions in and out slumber. You have the greatest control over your habits and the efficacy of music during those transitions, the first and last phases. Addressing the phases separately can help you more practically address sleep challenges and derive the greatest benefits from sleep: amplified energy, mood, and wellbeing throughout the day. 

Preparing for Sleep

Most of the music promoted as “sleep music” fits into the first phase: Sleep Preparation. In the hour leading up to sleep, you can use music to help you create the conditions that support sleep onset, induce slumber, and prepare your system for a more efficient and restful experience in Phase 2. You might think of it as a Sleep Prelude with musical accompaniment. 


Modern science has provided abundant evidence for how good sleep preparation practices—a crucial part of sleep hygiene—can immediately impact the quality and quantity of your sleep. Using relaxing music before bed can also increase sleep efficiency, or the ratio between the amount of time spent in bed versus the time you are actually asleep.

As cited by researchers in the professional journal, PLoS ONE, music has many promising neurological and physiological effects that can help fight against sleep loss. Listening to music has been suggested to reduce anxiety, regulate arousal, shift moods, lower the negative subjective effects of physical pain, reduce cortisol levels, and even decrease negative thoughts. 

Researchers found that listening to music for forty-five minutes prior to sleep for four days shortened the time it took subjects to fall asleep (sleep latency) while extending critical REM sleep cycles in adults with chronic insomnia. Another study showed a reduction in sleep latency and a longer deep-sleep cycle when sedative music was played for the first hour the participant was in bed.

Adding the Mix to Music

Music’s ability to improve sleep can be amplified when combined with other sleep hygiene practices. Here are a number of additive and subtractive sleep hygiene practices you can try.​​

Additive sleep hygiene habits: 

  • Meditating
  • Taking a warm bath
  • Doing some reflective journaling
  • Intimately connecting with a loved one
  • Reading a book you enjoy
  • Maintaining an evening gratitude or prayer practice
  • Doing gentle yoga stretches

Subtractive sleep hygiene habits:

  • Reducing overstimulation from work, entertainment, news, or potentially upsetting discussions before sleep
  • Avoiding eating too late
  • Cutting out bright and blue light at night from digital screens, including your smartphone 
  • Lowering room temperatures
  • Using an eye mask and blackout shades to reduce natural light
  • Eliminating alcohol consumption before bed

Sleeping to Music

Because research is still limited on whether music helps improve sleep quality if played throughout the actual sleep cycles (Phase 2 of our model), I can’t promise that playing music throughout the night will benefit you. 

Based on what we do know, I recommend focusing on the benefits of using music during sleep preparation and avoiding playing it while you sleep. If, as part of that, you prefer to fall asleep to music, I recommend setting a timer that will shut off the sound after you have fallen asleep, or using a playlist that will end naturally.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the efficacy of music as a sleep aid can sometimes depend on repeated use over time. In several studies, that time was three to four weeks. This correlates with other research on changing habits and the human body’s adaptation to new behaviors. While it is not surprising, it does suggest that you’ll need a little patience and consistency as you add music to your bedtime ritual.

What Kind of Music Helps with Sleep?

If you are looking for the right background music to help you sleep, you’ll probably have to do a little exploration. You can start with the “Sleep Music” or “Relaxing Music” playlists found on different digital music platforms, or you can pick and choose to create a more customized sleep-inducing blend. 

Two key factors to consider are your personal music preferences and the level and uniqueness of your response to relaxation music. One person may populate their “Dream Time” playlist with jazz, while another may choose classical piano music or New Age. 

It is generally agreed, however, that the music selections on a Sleep Preparation playlist should be relaxing and non-stimulating. Music with slower tempos, lower volumes, and minimal shifts in dynamics or harmonic modulations may be more suitable for aiding sleep.

Regardless of the label or genre, the music needs to support the conditions that you are looking to create during the Sleep Preparation phase: a calm mind, relaxed body, and more coherent nervous system. 

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Fortunately, a size does exist for everyone, including you. And thanks to today’s online music services, you have plenty of choices awaiting you. 

Additionally, if you play music or sing, you might try replacing that nightcap with one last lullaby. Some people choose to softly chant mantras, play a meditation singing bowl, sing soothing hymns, or gently repeat the melody from their favorite lullaby. If these participatory practices tend to wake you rather than settle you down for the night, however, listening to music in the background may still be a better choice to prepare you for a sound sleep.

When to Seek Help from a Professional

Before delving into your musical selection, please make note of a couple caveats. If you have a severe condition or chronic sleep disorder, like clinically diagnosed insomnia, I recommend consulting a sleep specialist. You can also work with a music therapist that has experience in music and sound protocols for improving sleep. 

Following a proper music therapy and sleep assessment, the therapist can provide you with a more personalized and refined music sedation protocol to guide you down the often-dark path to a good night of shuteye.

In Conclusion

Whether or not you have sleep issues, a nighttime sleep hygiene practice, accompanied by the right music, is a wonderful ritual to help bring closure to your day, improve sleep, and enrich your life. 

With the Muse on your side and science in the mix, there is an ideal musical recipe waiting to help you enjoy the sound sleep you deserve.

To learn more about Music and Sleep, including the musical art of waking up happier and healthier, check out the best-selling book Amplified: Unleash Your Potential Through Music.

This excerpt is adapted from my bestselling book Amplified, available online or at a bookstore near you. 


  • Frank Fitzpatrick

    Founder of Amplified Future, Author, Music & Health Expert, Faculty of Exponential Medicine at Singularity University.

    Frank is a Grammy-nominated multi-platinum music producer, international keynote speaker, social entrepreneur, author and wellness expert redefining human potential through the convergence of health, music, entertainment and technology. He is a leading voice in the emerging Hearables market, contributing writer for Forbes, and faculty at Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine. Frank has been a delegate and presenter for dozens of international forums including TEDx, SXSW, Singularity University, BCG Digital Ventures, Perimeter Institute, the Berlinale, Shanghai Academy, Esalen, Xoogler, Facebook, ExO, Ciudad de las Ideas, Skoll World Forum, City of Hope, and the United Nations. Frank continues to collaborate with the world’s most creative artists and thought-leaders. He has created successful programs reaching over 200 million people and generating over $1B in revenues. Frank’s mission is to amplify human potential at scale through the power of music, health sciences, entertainment and technology. If you feel inspired to spread the word about the release of the book, Amplified, and the mission it serves, read more at AmplifiedBook.com