When it's time to turn off the light and put your head on the pillow, the mind very often starts working at full speed.
The brain is not like a switch, turning completely on and off in an instant.
To calm down your activity and get to sleep, listening to music is one of the most popular strategies, and thus escape stressful thoughts.
But there is no perfect melody for this.
What there is is a lot of variety in musical tastes at bedtime.
A study carried out by researchers at the University of Aarhus, in Denmark, and published today in the scientific journal
, shows that there is a great degree of variety between musical preferences for falling asleep.
By analyzing almost a thousand Spotify playlists that referred to the word
, in English) and its derivations such as
in different languages, including Spanish, and 130,150 unique songs, the researchers found considerable diversity in the musical characteristics found in those playlists.
While standard music is quieter, slower, with acoustic instruments, and no lyrics, sleep-associated Spotify playlists also include faster, louder, and more energetic songs.
The most popular song, appearing on 245 of the 985
by the Korean
It is a melody that does not coincide at all with the descriptions of relaxation music, but is a happy theme, with a very lively rhythm.
Another popular song is
by singer Billie Eilish in the version with Khalid, which appears on 60 playlists.
On the other hand, popular sleeping melodies and children's lullabies, such as
' Lullaby , Beethoven
's Claro de Luna
Little Star, where are you
, appeared more than 100 times in the analyzed data set.
According to the authors, the most popular songs, even if they are moving, could induce relaxation and sleep in some people if they are familiar.
The reason is that, by listening to it over and over again, the brain becomes able to predict what comes next, an effect similar to that produced by slow music with few variations.
The co-author of the study Kira Vibe Jespersen tells EL PAÍS that there is still little scientific evidence to know to what extent the most important thing, at bedtime, are characteristics such as rhythm and volume, or individual preferences.
“It's probably some kind of mix, and the exact balance is between these two factors.
This study contributes to broaden the perspective ”, she maintains.
While it couldn't be determined whether the songs improved sleep quality or actually helped listeners fall asleep faster, the study does show that musical taste that can lead to relaxation is highly individual and made up of a range of genders.
Jespersen adds that these results could optimize the clinical use of music, since they demonstrate the variety of tastes.
"It is very important to take individual preferences into account in clinical settings and in scientific studies," stresses the researcher at the Center for Music in the Brain, in Denmark.
Alba García Aragón, a specialist in sleep pathologies at the Sleep Institute, comments that several studies to date have shown that patients who receive music therapy at night have significantly better sleep quality than the control group who do not listen to it.
On the other hand, an investigation carried out in 2020 and published by the
Association For Psychological Science
, showed that familiar and repetitive music, even if it seems relaxing, can trigger "involuntary musical images" that worsen sleep quality.
"Given the lack of scientific evidence, new lines of research would be necessary to corroborate this efficacy of music therapy in sleep, studying both the general population by age group and people with sleep pathologies," says García Aragón.
Despite this, the specialist adds that relaxing music can benefit adults who suffer from sleeping problems due to its physiological effects.
First, because it slows down the body's rhythm and, ultimately, reduces sympathetic nervous system activity and norepinephrine levels (both of which control bodily alertness levels, among other tasks).
With this change, the feeling of serenity and calm increases.
“It slows the heart rate and breathing rate, lowers blood pressure, relaxes the muscles.
In people who are subjected to a lot of stress in their daily lives, music can help them sleep, shifting the focus away from stressful thoughts and also masking external noises”, she explains via email.
Due to its physiological benefits, music may be one of the first recommendations for adults with sleep disorders.
“Compared to pharmacological treatment, it is a cheaper, more accessible measure that does not generate addiction and has not been shown to have any harmful effects”, the doctor emphasizes.
However, the habit of listening to a podcast, for example, can have the opposite effect in some cases.
While audio narrated stories help you tune out stressful thoughts and focus attention on something different, on the other hand, it activates multiple parts of the brain, including areas responsible for sensory processing, emotions, and memory creation: “We would giving the brain contradictory messages: on the one hand, you would prepare your body to sleep by being in bed, with your eyes closed and predisposed to it.
But, on the other hand, your brain is trying to stay awake so that you can listen to the podcast, thus preventing you from falling asleep and maintaining your sleep”, says García Aragón.
The Spanish Sleep Society estimates that between 20% and 48% of the population have trouble sleeping at some point, which eventually becomes chronic insomnia in around 10% of citizens.
García Aragón emphasizes that it is necessary to seek professional help when the quantity and quality of sleep is affected by "difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep" in a systematic way, without an apparent external cause.
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