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The sounds that send us to sleep

Sep 09, 2018

Whether you’re sensitive to things that go bump in the night or sleep like a log, sound and music have long been associated with sleep. From soothing lullabies to your partner’s snoring, the two are intrinsically linked – so we’re taking a look at how sounds like these are capable of having both a positive and negative impact on rest.

While the wrong noises – infuriating snoring or the relentless outdoor car alarm – will keep you up at night, other sounds, such as the pitter-patter of rain, can lull you into dreamland. White noise combines all frequencies to create a steady background hum, drowning out other sounds that can keep you up – with studies suggesting it may even help cure insomnia. It’s recommended not to be played through headphones due to the damage it can cause to your ears, so it’s best to opt for a white noise machine or even just a fan instead. Another similar phenomenon is pink noise. This balanced, steady mix of high and low frequencies draws its name from the light of the same frequency. Sounds that fall into this category include rainfall, wind and ocean waves, and they’ve been proven to slow and regulate brain waves, allowing you to wake up feeling well rested.

The sounds that send us to sleep

Most of us have heard of white noise, but a lesser known slumber supporter is Autonomous sensory meridian response, aka ASMR. This refers to the feeling of euphoric tingling and relaxation that can come over someone when watching certain images or hearing certain sounds. Surprisingly, the videos tend to be of people performing incredibly simple, quiet, calming tasks; such as folding towels, brushing their hair, or flipping magazine pages. The audio clips often consist of voices whispering nice things (like “You are appreciated”), or contain the sound of tapping, scratching, or rain. For most people who do experience it, the blissful tingling starts in the scalp and makes its way through the body to the arms and legs. And as a result, it triggers a feeling of relaxation before bedtime, which can help overcome insomnia.

For others, just a good old-fashioned bit of music is all it takes to help them drift off. Studies certainly support music’s ability to help us get to sleep, including 2013’s by PLOS ONE, which uncovered that listening to music helps calm the nervous system. But not all music is created equal – string-instrument based, with minimal brass and percussion has been proven to bring on drowsiness by decreasing anxiety, blood pressure and heart and respiratory rates. A scientific study by the Mindlab Institution in 2011 found Manchester-based band Marconi Union’s song Weightless to be the most relaxing song ever, beating out competition from the likes of Coldplay, Adele and Mozart.

The theory behind the music of sleep needn’t be confined to the bedroom, it can be applied in a business situation too. Businesses that want to be seen as calming, like spas and therapists, are incorporating the instruments and elements heard above to strengthen this type of identity. Furthermore, depending on the context – on-hold to a complaints line, in a waiting room for the above types of businesses, in a high-pressure setting – companies may want to relax their customers. This type of sleep-associated music can achieve this effect, inspiring a real sense of calm in the listener.

Next time you’re counting sheep, you don’t need to shush – all it takes is the right sound to send you to the land of nod.