Music can make you laugh, make you cry, give you chills, shake your booty, or—as anyone who has ever attended an evening performance at the symphony knows too well—put you to sleep. Emerging research from sleep scientists around the world says that there’s a good reason for this, and now you can exploit it to make your own bedtime even cozier.
Music has been used in healing ceremonies for thousands of years and across cultures—but let’s talk about a surprising new study out of Hong Kong. Researchers found that study participants who listened to music for 30 to 45 minutes before bed every night for three months fell asleep more quickly, slept more deeply, and felt better the next morning. The catch: The songs they listened to were all set at tempos between 60 and 80 beats per minute—our approximate heart rate when falling asleep.
That’s right: You can literally trick your body into relaxing by syncing your heart rate with peaceful music. In this way, listening to music becomes a form of meditation; by mindfully listening to your surroundings, your heart rate slows, your blood pressure lowers, your anxiety abates, and life becomes a peaceful song.
Of course, the same is true of energetic music: The Royal Automobile Club Foundation for Motoring ranked Wagner’s “Ride of The Valkyries” as the world’s most dangerous song for motorists, thanks to a frenzied tempo (nearly 100 bpm) that challenges drivers’ normal sense of speed. (Saying “Sorry, officer, I was just Wagner-ing” probably is not a magic phrase to get you out of a speeding ticket.)
Armed with findings about the irresistible link between backbeat and heartbeat, sleep therapists have even begun collaborating with musicians to create what could become known to history as the chillest music ever. In 2011, the English trio known as Marconi Union worked with the British Academy of Sound Therapy to create an eight-minute instrumental track called “Weightless,” designed to lull the listener into relaxation through proven heart-rate-lowering sounds and tempos (beginning at 60 bpm, and stealthily slowing to 50 bpm by the end.)
And it worked, too. In a recent UK study, participants challenged with solving difficult puzzles while listening to various types of music showed a whopping 65 percent reduction in anxiety (and therefore an improvement in performance) while listening to “Weightless.” (That pretty much makes “Weightless” the anti-Valkyrie.) As an addendum, study moderator Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International even said: “I would advise against driving while listening to the song because it could be dangerous.”
Want to boost your relaxation before bedtime? Make this your official playlist for a sweet slumber:
• “Weightless” by Marconi Union
• “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy
• “Canzonetta Sul-aria” by Mozart
• “Nocturne in E flat Major Op.9 No.2” by Chopin
• “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel