A recent study supervised by Dr. Katuro Endo, a neurologist and one of Japan’s most celebrated “sleep doctors,” has found that music, specifically lullabies, can cure insomnia. He set out to prove the power of music by inducing sleep in 1500 subjects. He chose music that he found effective for people who needed help falling asleep.

Although I have suspected for some time that lullabies were a great tool for those who are sleep challenged, I have been able to find only a smattering of strong scientific data which supports this hypothesis. Dr. Endo’s brief report, which was empirical in nature, was somewhat unsatisfying, at least scientifically. Still, it got me thinking.

Dr. Endo divides music into three categories: melodies that fire the imagination; those that are calming and relaxing; and music that should, within ten minutes, slow the brain down to the point of unconsciousness. The first description, music that fires the imagination could be just about anything, so this category seems a bit nebulous and broad. The second category, music that is calming and relaxing could encompass new age, classical, lullabies, etc. and is lacking in a working definition. The third, music that slows the brain down to the point of sleep, is, again, unclear.

I’d like to explore music that relaxes to the point of sleep, which was the purpose of the study and the subject of this article. In my experience, the most effective music to induce relaxation and sleep is that which has a simple melody, (in musical terms, it could be known as a conjunct melody). Add to that, simple harmonies (mostly consonant, with only mild dissonance), and a slow tempo and, ideally, triple meter (as it has been proven to mimic the human heartbeat at rest).

In addition, it is worth exploring how music can influence brain activity. Every moment of your life your brain is active. It is pulsing with electrical impulses, which can be measured with an EEG (electroencephalogram), which measures the frequency of the electrical current in Hertz (HZ). These frequencies are associated with your state of mind at any given moment, for example, it can measure your level of awareness and focus; your level of relaxation and even creativity.

There are four main brain wave patterns that have been well documented. Beta waves occur when we’re awake and conscious. They are present when you are alert and going about your day, focused on the outside world. Alpha waves are present just before falling asleep and waking, during meditation, mental relaxation and daydreaming. This state is easily achieved by closing your eyes. Serotonin is released during this stage, which can increase concentration and focus.Theta waves occur when you go even deeper into meditation, when in the flow of a creative experience and during the REM cycle of sleep. It is also where lucid dreaming occurs. Delta waves occur when sleeping or when unconscious. There is no dreaming during this state.

Obviously, then, upbeat music would support the Beta state, and more relaxing music would help alter brain waves to the more restful states. Since this article is about sleep, I will share a simple method that has worked well. First, play some beautiful music (lullabies would be a good choice), preferably instrumental, with the above qualities of simple melodies, simple harmonies and slow tempos. Then, lie down in a comfortable position. Take several very slow, deep breaths and on each exhalation, relax your body more and more deeply. Feel heavy and weightless at the same time. Only focus on how relaxed you feel, and let the music send you off to sleep. This may take some time to learn, but I can achieve a deep state off relaxation very quickly now, almost as if I’ve trained my personal relaxation response. And since practicing these easy steps, I’ve never slept better. The most profound truths are often deceptively simple.

Author's Bio: 

Patrice Cosier has a Masters Degree in Music and 30 years experience as a music educator, composer, performer and movement specialist. She taught K-8 music in Florida and California, and was a professor of Music History and Appreciation. She is certified in Orff Shulwerk, Yamaha Keyboard Methods and Feng Shui.
Noted for her experience in music and movement therapy, she has blended lullaby style and form with scientific relaxation techniques in her uniquely beautiful CD of original lullabies, "Good Night Lullabies."