Music and Sleep: Perfecting the Lullaby, For Children and Adults

Fetuses can start hearing sounds when they are around 35 weeks old. Even though they can mostly listen to low-pitched sounds when they are in the uterus, they are still connecting with their mother’s voice in a deep level; for example, through song. 

Since newborns are used to hearing mostly listening low-pitched sounds, the first few months of their lifetimes can be troublesome because they are being exposed to new sounds. However, lullabies then take an essential role in calming the newborn and easing sleep because it creates a steady rhythm and repetitive lyric they can fall asleep with.  Also, one of the factors that influence this reaction from the newborn is the mother’s voice because they are already familiarized with it.

Specifically, physiotherapist Penny Simkin whom specializes in childbirth, suggests parents to repeat a song while in utero in order to have the baby be familiarized with a melody before being born. This then helps the newborn relax when he or she hears the song after birth because it is not new to them; subsequently, the melody can be used to ease sleep. 

However, the concept of specific songs or genres for sleep are not only practical for parents and newborns, but also for adults without children. 41 million individuals in US report sleeping less than 6 hours - even when the suggested amount of sleep for adults is 7 to 9 hours. This has lead to sleep deprivation being addressed as a public health problem by the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) because it can result in people unintentionally falling asleep during the day, potentially while fulfilling important tasks -- like driving a car. 

Although the reasons why music appears to effect heart rate and sleep quality are still being explored, scientists have speculated it is due to the connection of music listening and emotions. But if one thing is certain, it is that music has been shown to stimulate secretion of hormones released in the brain. While listening to music, our brains release oxytocin, which has been shown to help people fall asleep. 

Just as lullabies help children calm down and slow their heart rate, adults also have the necessity to access music that creates these physiological changes to ease sleep. Previously on the Sync Project Blog, we described the common characteristics of music for sleep, or grown-up lullabies! Traditional Western classical music pieces, with tempos of 60 – 80 beats per minute and stable rhythms, are often reported as ideal for sleep. Interestingly, most of them have also low-pitched sounds; also, one of the important characteristics for a baby’s lullaby. 

At Sync Project, we believe music can be used as precision medicine, one day being integrated with (or augmenting) other standard care procedures for common clinical conditions such as pain management and sleep disorders.

We developed  with acclaimed musicians Marconi Union to make music that listens to your heart rate and is designed to help you relax before sleep. It's free, works on any web browser, and was designed for the smartphone to get a better idea of how music is effecting your physiology towards relaxation. Try it tonight and see if it helps you get a better night's rest.

Written by Paola Solis and Alex de Raadt

E. Partanen, T. Kujala, R. Naatanen, et al. "Learning-induced neural plasticity of speech processing before birth." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences no. 37 (2013)
Hopkin, Michael. "Sounds inside the womb revealed." Nature News. February 02, 2003.
Bargiel, Marianne. "Lullabies and Play songs: Theoretical Considerations for an Early Attachment Music Therapy Intervention through Parental Singing for Developmentally At-Risk Infants." Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy.
"Beautiful Music: The Benefits of Singing to your Baby, Before and After Birth." Beautiful Music: The Benefits of Singing to your Baby, Before and After Birth | Pregnancy & Birth.