How Music Can Help Older Adults Sleep Better

By Mitch Rice

Seniors often have trouble sleeping, due to existing pain, mental conditions, and a variety of other factors. If you’re struggling with chronic pain, or if you’re feeling persistently uncomfortable, you won’t be able to feel at ease enough to drift off to sleep.

One of the best ways to get better sleep as an older adult is with the help of appropriate music. But why is this the case? And how can you use this strategy successfully?

Why Is Music Effective?

Multiple studies have verified that listening to certain types of music, under the right conditions, can help older Americans get to sleep faster, sleep longer, and benefit from higher-quality sleep. But why is this the case?

There are a few explanations:

  •       Routine, cycles, and familiarity. For starters, music can ultimately become part of a familiar, repetitive routine. People tend to sleep much better on a consistent basis if they’re following the same process every night. Going to bed at the same time every day, repeating the same rituals before you go to bed, and enjoying the same environmental stimuli will make it easier for you to fall asleep. If music is a part of this ritual, you will grow to associate it with sleep, and pretty soon, when you hear this type of music, you’ll become more tired and your body will prepare itself for rest.
  •       Calming music and a sedative effect. Not all music is shown to help adults sleep better; ideally, the music should be calming and relaxing. Gentle music with soothing melodies is much better than harsh music with unexpected contrasts in volume or sharp, intense melodies. In other words, you’re better off listening to classical nocturnes than modern heavy metal – but you probably could have guessed that.
  •       An external focal point. Music is also beneficial for getting to sleep because it represents an external focal point. Oftentimes, when older adults struggle to get the rest they need, it’s because they keep focusing on something internal. They might be plagued with restless, racing thoughts, or they might be unable to take their focus away from a source of chronic pain. But when music is in place, it’s harder to be taken by these distractions; you can focus on the music, and gradually drift off.

How to Use Music for Sleep

If you’re an older adult struggling with sleep, or if you have a loved one with similar struggles, how should you use music to establish a better sleeping environment?

  •       Invest in your equipment. According to DailyCaring’s gift guide for elderly women, smart speakers are an ideal gift idea for seniors. On top of being able to play music on command, they’re an intuitive form of technology that can keep your loved ones more informed and better connected to the world around them. If you don’t like that idea, you can go with a set of high-quality headphones designed for sleeping, invest in a portable speaker, or even invest in older music playing devices like boomboxes.
  •       Choose a playlist of calming, peaceful music. Once you have the means to play the music you want, you have to choose which music you want to hear wind drifting off. Familiar or nostalgic songs are excellent choices: “If you’re setting up playlists for an older person with Alzheimer’s or dementia, focus on songs that they’re very, very familiar with” says Connie Chow of “For these people, songs they don’t know can have the opposite effect, and be unsettling and irritating.” Otherwise, prioritize calming, peaceful music. Classical and Romantic instrumental music is great for this; anything with lyrics can be distracting and anything with harsh dynamics could interrupt you as you begin to fall asleep.
  •       Try to go to bed at the same time each day. Music is best used as part of a ritual that’s repeated over and over again. In accordance with this, try to go to bed at the same time each day. You should strive to start playing music around the same time each day as well. With enough repetition, you’ll find it easier and easier to get to sleep at the time you want.
  •       Block other noises and distractions. It’s a good idea to block out other noises and distractions that could pull you away from the music or prevent you from getting to sleep. That could mean taking simple actions like closing the windows, or investing in upgrades like acoustic panels to block out noise.
  •       Remain patient. While most people see better sleep results from the first night they try listening to music, it’s important to remain patient. Because sleep quality depends on our consistent habits, it could take you weeks to establish new routines and begin seeing the results of those routines. Keep repeating your strategies until they stick.

Music can’t magically make your sleeping problem go away, but it is a useful addition that, in combination with other sleep improvement strategies, can gradually lead you to deeper, longer, and more restful sleep. Consider adding it to your bedtime routine if you’re currently struggling to get the sleep you need, or introduce the topic to an older adult in your life.

Data and information are provided for informational purposes only, and are not intended for investment, medical or other purposes.