Musical Beats for Sleep and Stress Relief



Sleepy, stressed and a mess

With midterms, finals, and the overall stress-inducing problems of college, stressing out seems to be an integral part of university life. Work, lack of sleep, and personal problems can all contribute to feelings of stress[1].



Stress can contribute to problems with sleep and a change in academic performance [2].  It can also lead to more serious problems like depression, heart problems, and anxiety. For people with chronic stress, the immune, digestive, and reproductive systems stop working normally [3]. Because of the negative consequences of stress, scientists have searched for ways to understand and reduce stress. In fact, studies suggest that listening to certain genres of music can have a combative effect on stress and a positive effect on sleep!

Music Effects on Stress

Doing a simple, everyday thing such as listening to music can have a number of effects, including:

Reducing the physical effects of stress

A 2013 study published in Public Library of Science One evaluated the effects of listening to music on stress. The scientists concluded that music can reduce the strain on the psychobiological stress system and help the autonomic nervous system, the system responsible for functions like heart rate and digestion, recover faster. Therefore, listening to music can help ease feelings like tension and fatigue caused by stress[4].

Reducing anxiety in college or other academic environments

A 2001 study in Journal of Music Therapy assessed the effects of classical music on undergraduate students in a high-pressure situation. In this study, the researchers measured the subjects’ subjective anxiety, systolic blood pressure, and heart rate. They found that the stress-induced increases of the subjects’ anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate were prevented by exposing the subjects to music. After the study was concluded, the scientists concluded that their findings supported claims that music can reduce the effects of stressors [5].

Listening to music can also reduce stress in patients

A review in Cochrane Summaries published in 2009 compared the findings of 23 randomized controlled trials that studied listening to music and its effects on patients with coronary heart disease. The results suggest that listening to music can have a moderate effect on the anxiety of the patients, reducing heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. However, most of the studies tested the effects of pre-recorded music, and scientists speculate that music therapy with live and interactive music could possibly have a different outcome, although more research is needed [6].

Listening to enjoyable music can lead to better academic performance

In Behavioural Brain Research, a study from 2013 assessed the correlation of listening to music and academic performance. In this study, students chose to take courses involving music over other artistic courses. Researchers discovered that the students who chose to take music classes had higher grades on average. Although the reasons for the students’ higher grades are not definitive, the scientists determined that music could contribute to higher grades [7].


Music and Sleep

Deep sleep

In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, young adults with different levels of sleep sensitivity were evaluated when they slept. The control group did not listen to any music while sleeping, while the other group listened to sedative music. From the results, the researchers found that the group that listened to sedative music had a prolonged period of deep sleep in the second stage of the sleep process, when heart rate starts to slow, and third stage of the sleep process, as the body transitions from light to deep sleep [8].

Sleep Quality

In a review conducted by the International Journal of Nursing Studies in 2013, the results of 10 randomized studies were analyzed to determine the effect of music therapy on adults. From the studies, which passively applied music to improve sleep quality in adults, they found that the subjects who listened to music while sleeping experienced better quality sleep. This was subjectively measured using questionnaires and a polysomnography, a test that records bodily functions during the sleep cycle. The study concluded that music could possibly aid in the sleep quality of patients with sleeping problems, although further research is needed[9].

Music Therapy

Music therapy is the evidence-based practice of using music in a therapeutic sense to address physical, emotional, social, and cognitive needs [10].  According to the American Music Therapy Association, it is “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”


In a 2001 study in Alternative Therapies, researchers studied the effects of group drumming music therapy on stress-related hormones. Through a single trial experiment with 4 music groups and 2 control groups, researchers found that group drumming increased natural cell killer activity. They concluded that drumming has potential to direct certain areas of the neuroendocrine and neuroimmune parameters, the parameters that control the hormonal and immune system, away from the body’s natural stress response [11].


Tunes for Your Mood

In these studies conducted to see the relationship between music and stress, most researchers had the subjects listen to classical music. However, try listening to different songs to help you stress less and sleep well! From the famous classical to the obscure and calming – try listening to these tracks to help you relax!

  • Für Elise – Ludwig van Beethoven

  • What a Wonderful World – Nat King Cole

  • La Vie en Rose – Edith Piaf

  • Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd

  • Plasticities – Andrew Bird

  • Zebra – Beach House

  • Tiger Mountain Peasant Song – Fleet Foxes

To see what type of music calms you, test out the iso principle theory: match your music to your mood and gradually change it to shift your emotions. Start by listening to different calming types of music such as

  • Classical artists like Beethoven or Mozart

  • Music with wind instruments

  • Drumming music

  • Ocean sounds


Winter 2014 | Vol. 14 | Issue 2

References ⌄

  1. “Stress Management - Causes of Stress.” (2011).

  2. “Study finds lack of sleep, excessive computer screen time, stress and more hurt college students’ grades.” (2008).

  3. “Q&A On Stress for Adults: How it affects your health and what you can do about it. ” (2013).

  4. “The effect of music on the human stress response.” PLoS One. (2013).

  5. “Relaxing music prevents stress-induced increases in subjective anxiety, systolic blood pressure, and heart rate in healthy males and females.” J Music Ther. (2001).

  6. “Music to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for coronary heart disease patients.” Cochrane Summaries. (2009).

  7. “Music and Academic Performance.” Behav Brain Res. (2013).

  8. “Sedative Music Facilities Deep Sleep in Young Adults.” J Altern Complement Med. (2013).

  9. “Music therapy improves sleep in acute and chronic sleep disorders: A meta-analysis of 10 randomized studies.” Int J Nurs Stud. (2013).

  10. “What is Music Therapy.” (2013).

  11. “Composite Effects of Group Drumming Music Therapy on Modulation of Neuroendocrine-Immune Parameters in Normal Subjects.” Altern Therapies. (2001).

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