Can listening to pop music help you sleep?

Key findings

  • Many people associate sleep music with slower, down-tempo songs, but a new study shows that upbeat pop songs also work well for some.
  • Experts say familiar music can help ease anxiety and distract people from their thoughts.
  • Incorporating music into a consistent bedtime routine can also be a good way to improve sleep hygiene.

When you think of what kind of music can help you fall into a deep, restful sleep, there’s a good chance soft, ambient, instrumental music comes to mind—and for good reason.

Previous research has shown that slower music with a low tempo and non-danceable rhythms is most likely to aid sleep, but a new study offers a different perspective. The study, conducted by researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark, found that more upbeat, catchy pop songs were often included in playlists that people used to help them fall asleep at night.

The researchers analyzed a total of 225,626 songs from 985 Spotify playlists that were related to sleep before dividing the songs into six distinct subcategories.

Three of the subcategories correspond to the typical characteristics of sleep music: slow, downtempo, acoustic instruments, no lyrics, etc. However, the remaining three subcategories include music that is faster and more energetic, including pop songs like “Dynamite” by BTS—which appears on sleep playlists 245 times, the most of any song—and “lovely” by Billie Eilish and Khalid.

“It was surprising to see the degree of variation in the music people use for sleep,” Dr Kira Weibe Jespersen, co-author of the study, told Verywell. “Based on previous studies, we expected the music to be from many different genres, but I didn’t expect so much variation in the musical characteristics.”

How can music help you sleep?

According to Dr. Michael K. Scullin, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, one of the main reasons music can help someone fall asleep is quite simple: It can help you relax.

“Listening to music can serve as a distraction from internal thoughts and ruminations,” Scullin said. “[It can] fill your head with tunes, not worries. Some people also live with roommates or in noisy environments, and playing music can help mask other noises that would keep someone awake.

Tana Bao, FNP-BC, an expert in sleep medicine, told Verywell that music is also known to improve anxiety, which significantly affects sleep.

A 2016 study found that music helps reduce stress and anxiety and provides better sleep quality for pregnant women with disturbed sleep. And a 2022 meta-analysis of 21 controlled studies found that listening to music had a significant effect on anxiety relief.

“People naturally feel happier when they listen to music they like, and these positive feelings subsequently set the stage for a better night’s sleep,” Bao said.

From a sleep hygiene standpoint, it’s well established that maintaining a consistent bedtime routine is extremely important, she added, and incorporating music into that routine can help someone maintain their nighttime routine.

Why does pop music work better for some people?

According to the study, while some might argue that high-energy, danceable music would be counterproductive to relaxation and sleep, research shows that the brain is better able to relax when it can anticipate what’s coming. If one has heard a song repeatedly, as many people do with pop songs, listening to the song requires minimal focus and brain energy.

And if a song is very repetitive, as pop songs are, it is predictable in nature and quickly becomes familiar, which can also facilitate relaxation, the study explains.

“If we think that music aids sleep because it distracts from internal worries, masks external noises, or is otherwise a soothing part of the bedtime routine, then it makes sense that a person would listen to familiar music before bed,” Scullin said.

And according to Bao, it may simply come down to personal preference. The kind of music that can relax someone probably has a lot to do with whatever kind of music they genuinely like to listen to, she said.

Perhaps that’s why studies that have tried to determine the most effective sleep genre have produced conflicting findings: An Australian study found that classical music was the most commonly cited genre as a sleep aid, while this new study found that pop, ambient and lo-fi were the most popular among sleepers – with classical music ranked 7th on the list.

But if you’re experiencing insomnia, Scullin said listening to music shouldn’t necessarily be the first trick you try. Instead, it’s best to try impulse control practices.

“Simply put, use the bed only for sleeping,” he said. “Any type of activity that is exciting, stressful, or otherwise sleep-inducing should be kept in another room. Smartphones and other technology are great tools and sources of entertainment, but if you have trouble sleeping, it’s best to keep them out of the bedroom.”

If that doesn’t work, though, you can always try incorporating the music you like into a consistent evening routine.

“Optimizing a sleep routine to encourage a bedtime routine, for many, can likely be enhanced by adding music driven by personal preference into the mix,” Bao said.

What does this mean for you?

If you have trouble sleeping at night, you should first try keeping your bed for sleep only and removing all devices from your room. If that doesn’t work, you can try incorporating familiar music you like—regardless of genre—into a consistent bedtime routine.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

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  2. Scarratt RJ, Heggli OA, Vuust P, Jespersen KV. The sonic characteristics of sleep music: universal and subgroup characteristics. PLoS One. 2023;18(1):e0278813. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0278813

  3. Liu YH, Lee CS, Yu CH, Chen CH. Effects of listening to music on stress, anxiety, and sleep quality in sleep-disordered pregnant women. Women’s health. 2016; 56 (3): 296-311. doi:10.1080/03630242.2015.1088116

  4. Harney C, Johnson J, Bailes F, Havelka J. Is listening to music an effective intervention for reducing anxiety? A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials. musical sciences. Published online January 10, 2022 doi:10.1177/10298649211046979

By Myra Miller

Myra Miller is a freelance writer specializing in mental health, women’s health and culture.

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