The music that helps people sleep and the reasons they believe it works: A mixed methods analysis of online survey reports

PLoS One. 2018 Nov 14;13(11):e0206531. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0206531. eCollection 2018.


Sleep loss is a widespread problem with serious physical and economic consequences. Music can impact upon physical, psychological and emotional states, which may explain anecdotal reports of its success as an everyday sleep aid. However, there is a lack of systematic data on how widely it is used, why people opt for music as a sleep aid, or what music works; hence the underlying drivers to music-sleep effects remain unclear. We investigated music as a sleep aid within the general public via a mixed methods data online survey (n = 651) that scored musicality, sleep habits, and open text responses on what music helps sleep and why. In total, 62% of respondents stated that they used music to help them sleep. They reported fourteen musical genres comprising 545 artists. Linear modelling found stress, age, and music use as significant predictors of sleep quality (PSQI) scores. Regression tree modelling revealed that younger people with higher musical engagement were significantly more likely to use music to aid sleep. Thematic analysis of the open text responses generated four themes that described why people believe music helps sleep: music offers unique properties that stimulate sleep (Provide), music is part of a normal sleep routine (Habit), music induces a physical or mental state conducive to sleep (State), and music blocks an internal or external stimulus that would otherwise disrupt sleep (Distract). This survey provides new evidence into the relationship between music and sleep in a population that ranged widely in age, musicality, sleep habits and stress levels. In particular, the results highlight the varied pathways of effect between music and sleep. Diversity was observed both in music choices, which reflected idiosyncratic preferences rather than any consistent musical structure, and in the reasons why music supports good sleep, which went far beyond simple physical/mental relaxation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attention
  • Female
  • Habits
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Music / psychology*
  • Music Therapy
  • Relaxation
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / psychology
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / therapy
  • Sleep*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

VJW was supported by a Vice Chancellor’s Fellowship and an Arts Enterprise Award from the University of Sheffield. The authors received no specific funding for this work.