Music to Lull you to Sleep

by Laura Johannes
September 18, 2006

Tired of counting sheep? Companies selling specially designed music say their soothing melodies bring you sweetly into slumberland. Physicians who specialize in sleep say music does help some insomniacs, but is most likely to be useful in mild cases.

Nearly everyone has trouble sleeping at least occasionally. About 60 million Americans a year have insomnia frequently or for extended periods of time, according to the National Institutes of Health. Insomnia tends to increase with age, according to the NIH, and also affects women disproportionately, with 40% of women affected but only 30% of men.

Millions take prescription drugs or natural supplements such as melatonin, to aid slumber. But a nonmedical solution -- listening to music -- is now getting attention both in research journals and from entrepreneurs.

Recent studies suggest slow-tempo music, ranging from 60 to 80 beats a minute, may help lull insomniacs to sleep.

Several companies sell compact discs or digital music online designed to spur sleep -- each with very different styles. David & Steve Gordon, a team of brothers who were among the first to compose and sell new-age style music about 25 years ago, last year came out with Pillow Music Natural: Deep Sleep, made up of gentle melodies interwoven with trickling brooks, waves and other natural sounds.

Music as a sleep aid hasn't been widely studied. However, several smaller studies have linked music to better sleep. Last year, a study done on Taiwanese elderly adults by researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found that mellowing out to music 45 minutes before bedtime helped about half of a test group of 30 adults sleep longer and better. A control group given no bedtime ritual showed no change.

That three-week study, published in the February 2005 issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing, used a variety of music, all in the relatively slow tempo range of 60 to 80 beats a minute -- twice as slow as energetic dance music. The positive effect was greatest in the second and third weeks of the study, suggesting that people who want to try music should stick with it long enough for the body to become trained to associate the music with sleep, says study co-author Marion Good, a Case Western research nurse

Experts say music is no miracle cure for sleeplessness -- but it's harmless, nonaddictive and generally costs less than $30. Robert D. Ballard, medical director of the Advanced Center for Sleep Medicine at Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver says music can -- along with better-known remedies such as chamomile tea or warm milk -- establish a calming bedtime ritual. You don't necessarily need to buy music marketed as a sleep aid, experts say, but do be careful to choose slow and soft pieces. You should like the music, Dr. Ballard adds, but not love it so much that it keeps you awake.

If your insomnia is caused by a physical disorder such as sleep apnea or a profound mental disturbance, physicians say, you'll likely need medical or psychological interventions to get significant relief.

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