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Alexandra Nash

Seminar in Thinking and Writing


Dr. McClain
12 November, 2015
Sing Me To Sleep

When was the last time you got a good night’s sleep? Do you need to drink multiple cups

of coffee just to be able to get out the door in the mornings? If you’re like most people, sleep

tends to evade you night after night. Luckily, there is an affordable solution: classical music.

Listening to soothing music before going to sleep will allow you to fall asleep quickly and will

improve the quality of your sleep. While some people argue that music is stimulating and

prevents them from falling asleep, it has been proven to enhance the sleep quality of adults

young and old, and individuals with insomnia.

Very few people go their entire lives without forming any kind of poor sleeping habit.

Everyone will most likely develop a sleeping problem as they age. In order to combat this, it is

suggested that music-assisted relaxation is used every night before going to bed. Since the dawn

of time, mothers have used lullabies to lure their babies to sleep. The soothing sound of its

mother’s voice relaxes the child and decreases its wakefulness. According to Gerrit de Niet, over

25% of surveyed adults use music to bring on sleep. It can be argued that music does not have

any effect on a person who sleeps perfectly, being that there is no way perfect sleep quality can

improve (Koenig). However, it stands to reason that a small percentage of the population gets

the recommended amount of sleep each night, and most people go about their daily lives feeling

at least the slightest bit fatigued.

For a prime example of sleep deprivation, one should look no further than the local

college campus. As a current college student, I have found that a great way to enter into

conversation with a peer is to comment on my state of exhaustion. Nine times out of ten, the
conversation partner will agree and say that they are also tired, and the dialogue will revolve

around sleep, or lack thereof. We, as young adults, are beginning to realize that our sleeping

patterns are different from the recommended normal (Hobson, 88). Perhaps this is because of our

dependence on caffeine and heavy use of technology on a daily basis.

Technology has been taking the world by storm in the past decade, as young adults are

rarely detached from their virtual world of social media personas. According to Mary Carskadon,

at least 97% of teens and adults have at least one electronic device in their bedroom. Personally,

my bedroom contains four. In 2006, it was reported by Natalie Bryant and Rebecca Gomez that

one third of teens from 7th to 10th grade used television or computer games to help them fall

asleep. Many people believe that they are increasing their readiness for sleep by reading on their

Kindle or creeping on various Facebook profiles, but they are greatly mistaken. In actuality, this

tactic has the opposite effect. Because light is emitted from the illuminated screen, the secretion

of the sleep hormone, melatonin, is delayed because it can only be secreted in total darkness

(Bryant, Gomez). In regards to the relationship between sleep and light, Carskadon suggests that

it is best to fall asleep with little to no light in the evening and to wake up with bright light in the

morning. By monitoring exposure to light, the body will be able to remain on a regulated sleep

schedule.

In order to increase the amount of sleep young adults receive at night, classical music is

proposed as a solution. While most people are aware of the soothing effects of music, the

majority of young adults will confess that they have never used music to fall asleep. These

individuals, however, would benefit greatly from the information in the sleep experiment

performed by Dr. Harmat. The study, reported by Gerrit de Niet, was performed by Harmat in a

Hungarian university in 2008 and examined 94 college students that complained about not
getting enough sleep. The students listened to 45 minutes of classical music for three weeks

before bedtime, and the results showed that the music allowed the students to achieve a well-

rested state upon reawakening. They even scored a 6 out of 7 on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality

Index (PSQI) (de Neit). [The PSQI is a questionnaire that measures self-reported sleep habits,

and has been modified and used around the world. There are seven components that are

measured, and a higher score indicates poor sleep (Good, Hui-Ling)]. Because the students

listened to relaxing music before bed, they felt more at ease, and were able to fall asleep much

easier and more quickly than if they had remained stressed from their daily events.

On another note, music can be used as a sleep aid for people who suffer from sleep

disorders. In his book, Sleep, J. Allan Hobson explains that a sleep disorder occurs when “the

normal dynamics of the sleep cycle become exaggerated or unbalanced so as to produce too

much or too little sleep” (171). Music can potentially lessen the effects of all sleep disorders, but

in this case, music can be used to facilitate sleep for people with insomnia - a disorder in which

very little sleep is acquired by an individual each night. According to Lydia Dotto in Losing

Sleep: How Your Sleeping Habits Affect Your Life, people who suffer from insomnia are

generally more stressed and anxious as opposed to those who have no trouble falling asleep

(100). Because insomnia stems from anxiety, music can be used to decrease insomnia as a

relaxation factor.

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. In western countries, the self-reported

insomnia rate is from 10% to 48% (Luo). People are generally classified as insomniacs because

the parts of their brains that enable thinking and feeling cannot be turned off at night, so they lie

awake for hours and do not feel any closer to sleep than when they first got into bed (Hobson,

174). Since young adults experience such distress in their sleep cycles, they are more likely to
have this sleep disorder. As a way to lessen the anxiety experienced by an insomniac, relaxation

methods such as music-assisted relaxation are encouraged.

One of the most famous insomniacs is a man named Adam Young. If you have ever

heard the song, "Fireflies," which came out in 2010, you have heard Adam's work, but you may

know him better as Owl City. Like the name suggests, Adam is frequently awake at night, and

gets very little sleep during the day. With a sleep cycle similar to that of an owl, he has stated

that he is able to function as long as he can get three to five hours of sleep from a daytime nap.

Adam believes he is most creative when he is on the verge of falling asleep. For instance, he

wrote "Fireflies" during a sleepless night when he was 23. He was "just messing around in [his]

parents' basement," when a hit single appeared before his eyes (Young). Though his sleep

situation is not ideal, Adam uses his insomnia to his advantage and has created an astounding

music career. The fact that Adam uses music as a way to distract him from his late-night

restlessness proves the calming effects of music on sleep.

Just as young adults have sleep issues that can lead to insomnia, older adults have an

equal amount of sleep difficulties, if not more. While middle aged individuals from the ages of

30 to 60 show signs of increased fatigue and decreasing sleep quality, even more of a decrease

occurs in elderly adults. It has been concluded that poor sleepers are more likely to be older

females who live alone and have not had much education (Luo). Typically, elderly adults above

60 years old tend to lie restlessly awake between the hours of midnight and 6am. Because of the

change in sleep cycle that comes naturally with age, their sleep is more likely to come in short

fragments. It is common for elderly individuals to complain of fatigue and exhaustion as the

years go on (Hobson, 90).

With this lack of sleep, many side affects arise in elderly individuals that would not be
prevalent in young adults. For instance, elderly adults have a slower response time, making

driving dangerous and increasing the risk of injury from a fall. Also, death due to a common

cause such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, or suicide is twice as high in elderly individuals with

sleep disorders (Luo).

In order to prove the effect of music on sleep in elderly adults, a study by Lai and Good

was performed, surveying 60 elderly individuals in Taiwan. The patients listened to self-chosen

music for 45 minutes before bed for three weeks in order to relax their minds and decrease the

amount of time it takes them to fall asleep. They also received additional relaxation instructions

to further allow for a peaceful sleep. It was proven that calming music has positive effects on the

body because it can relax muscles and distract the mind from negative thoughts. The results of

the Lai and Good study provided that music-assisted relaxation improves sleep quality, and the

Taiwanese elderly adults scored a 5 of 7 on the PSQI (de Niet).

Obviously, classical music is an effective sleep aid not only for adults young and old, but

also for individuals with insomnia. Listening to 45 minutes of classical music can be a great

escape from the distracting thoughts of the day, and will allow you to ease into a peaceful sleep

at night. If you find that you are not getting as much sleep as you should be, incorporating music

into your nightly routine is a safe and economical sleep aid. By establishing this musical routine,

you can prevent yourself from developing a sleep disorder as you age, and ensure that you won’t

sleep through the rest of your life.


Works Cited

Bryant, Natalie B., and Rebecca L. Gómez. "The Teen Sleep Loss Epidemic: What Can Be

Done?." Translational Issues In Psychological Science 1.1 (2015): 116-125. PsycArticles.

Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Carskadon, Mary A. "Adolescents And Sleep: Why Teens Can't Get Enough Of A Good Thing."

Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter 25.4 (2009): 1-6. Academic

Search Elite. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Dotto, Lydia. "Can't Fall Asleep." Losing Sleep: How Your Sleeping Habits Affect Your Life.

New York: William Morrow and Company, INC, 1990. 89-104. Print.

Hobson, J. Allan. "Disordered Sleep." Sleep. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1989.

172-87. Print.

Hui-Ling, Lai, and Marion Good. "Music Improves Sleep Quality In Older Adults." Journal Of

Advanced Nursing 49.3 (2005): 234-244. Academic Search Elite. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Koenig, J., et al. "Music Listening Has No Positive Or Negative Effects On Sleep Quality Of

Normal Sleepers: Results Of A Randomized Controlled Trial." Nordic Journal Of Music

Therapy 22.3 (2013): 233-242. PsycInfo. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Luo, Jianfeng, et al. "Prevalence And Risk Factors Of Poor Sleep Quality Among Chinese

Elderly In An Urban Community: Results From The Shanghai Aging Study." Plos One

8.11 (2013): 1-7. Academic Search Elite. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

de Niet, Gerrit, et al. "Music-Assisted Relaxation To Improve Sleep Quality: Meta-Analysis."

Journal Of Advanced Nursing 65.7 (2009): 1356-1364. Academic Search Elite. Web. 17

Nov. 2015.

Young, Adam. "Wide Awake." ayoungblog.com. Tumblr, 2012. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

<http://www.ayoungblog.com/post/28350877317/wide-awake>.