A new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society have found that listening to music can help older adults sleep better.
Researchers from Cheng Kung National University Hospital in Taiwan combined the results of past studies to understand the impact that listening to music can have on the sleep quality of older adults. Their work suggests:
– Older adults (aged 60 and over) living at home sleep better when listening to music for 30 minutes to an hour at bedtime.
– Quiet music improves the sleep quality of older adults better than rhythmic music does.
– Older adults should listen to music for more than four weeks to see the maximum benefit of listening to music.
Why Older Adults Have Difficulties Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
As we grow older, our sleep cycles change and make it more difficult to achieve a good night’s sleep. What does it really mean to have a good night’s sleep? If you wake up resting and ready to start your day, you’ve probably slept deep the night before. But if you’re tired during the day, need coffee to keep you going, or wake up several times during the night, you may not get the deep sleep you need.  According to the National Institute on Aging, older adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
But studies have shown that 40 to 70 percent of older adults have sleep problems and over 40 percent have insomnia, which means they often wake up at night or too early in the morning. Sleep problems can make you feel irritable and depressed, can cause memory problems, and can even lead to falls or accidents.
How the Researchers Studied the Impact of Music on the Quality of Older Adult Sleep
For their study, the researchers searched for past studies that tested the effect of listening to music on older adults with sleep problems living at home. They looked at five studies with 288 participants. Half of these people were listening to music; the other half received normal or no treatment for their sleep problems. People who were treated to music listened to calm or rhythmic music for 30 minutes to one hour, over a period ranging from two days to three months. (Quiet music has a slow tempo of 60 to 80 beats per minute and a smooth melody, while rhythmic music is faster and louder.) All participants answered questions about how well they thought they slept. Each participant completed a score of 0 to 21 for their sleep quality.
The researchers looked at the difference in average scores for:
– people who listened to music compared to people who did not listen to music;
– people who listened to calm music compared to people who listened to rhythmic music;
– and people who listened to music for less than four weeks compared with people who listened to music for more than four weeks.
What the researchers learned
Listening to quiet bedtime music improved sleep quality among older adults, and quiet music was much better at improving sleep quality than rhythmic music. The researchers said that calming music could improve sleep by slowing your heart rate and breathing, and lowering your blood pressure. This, in turn, helps lower your stress and anxiety levels.
Researchers also learned that listening to music for more than four weeks is better for improving sleep quality than listening to music for a shorter period of time.
Limits of the Study
– Researchers only looked at studies published in English and Chinese, meaning they may have missed studies in other languages on the effect of listening to music on sleep in older adults.
– Results may not apply to older adults with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
– In the studies used by researchers, people who listened to music received more attention from researchers than people who received standard or no treatment for their sleep problems. This means that sleep improvements in the music therapy group could be due to that extra attention.
– Because the different studies used different types of music, researchers could not identify which type of calm music improved sleep most.
– All of the people in the study had similar types of sleep problems. This means that listening to music may not help people with other types of sleep problems.
What This Study Means To You
If you’re having trouble sleeping, listening to music can be a safe, effective and easy way to help you fall and stay asleep. It may also reduce your need for medication to help you sleep.
American Geriatrics Society
Chen, CT., et al. (2021) The impact of music therapy on improving sleep quality in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. doi.org/10.1111/jgs.17149.