Soothing Sounds: Reintroducing Music to an Older Adult’s Nighttime Routine

Think back to when you were a child, and the music your parents used to play to put you to sleep. Maybe it was a soft lullaby that soothed you into dreamland, a tape cassette of a children’s song, or perhaps they even sang you to sleep themselves. For centuries, music has been instrumental in helping children sleep—and it’s now been proven to work for older adults as well.

Soothing Music Nighttime Routine Older AdultsThink back to when you were a child, and the music your parents used to play to put you to sleep. Maybe it was a soft lullaby that soothed you into dreamland, a tape cassette of a children’s song, or perhaps they even sang you to sleep themselves. For centuries, music has been instrumental in helping children sleep—and it’s now been proven to work for older adults as well.
Research has shown that songs with 60 beats-per-minute or less can help slow down heart rates and ready the body for sleep. This insight might be key to helping your aging loved one experience a more restful night. For many older adults, sleep grows more challenging as their bodies produce less melatonin, becoming prone to waking more often. Bringing music into your loved one’s nighttime routine can improve the quality of their rest, and offer emotional and physical relief.

Introducing Sleep Back into Your Loved One’s Routine

There are several ways that caregivers can help their loved ones begin to integrate music into their nighttime routine. Mixing up different music styles can help aging adults discover what genre best calms and lulls them. It can also help prevent boredom. Have them try classical for a while, then nature sounds, with meditative guides thrown in on particularly rough nights.
To begin experiencing the full benefits of their new bedtime routine, your loved one needs to be listening for at least 45 minutes a night. It may also take a few days, or a couple weeks, for this strategy to take effect, so don’t give up if it doesn’t work on the first try. New habits take time to establish.
There are also a few safety considerations to keep in mind for older adults. Instead of using earbuds or headphones, which can cause damage to the ears if left in during sleep, we recommend setting up small speakers on a nearby desk within your loved one’s reach. Other alternatives include getting SleepPhones (a soft headband with speakers inside) or a pillow designed with speakers inside. Be sure to check in with your loved one about their preferences, and what they’re most comfortable with.

Music Proven to Help Your Loved One Sleep Better

The type of music you choose will have a big effect on whether or not it’ll help your loved one fall asleep. Be warned that songs with a beat-per-minute of over 60 can have the opposite effect: they’re more likely to raise someone’s heart rate, and stimulate brain activity.
Similarly, songs that evoke memories—either painful or joyous ones—can also hinder sleep. So while you may be inclined to play a song that’s emotionally poignant for your loved one, it’s probably not the best choice to help them relax and get some rest. Leave these types of songs for daytime to help your loved one reminisce, or to stimulate movement.
Fortunately, there’s a wide variety of sleep-inducing music and audio aids for older adults to pick from. Most importantly, encourage your loved one to have fun trying out different options until they hit upon something that lulls them into a peaceful slumber.

  • Classical Music: Many people have a deep affinity for classical music and find it inherently relaxing. Because it’s purely instrumental, there are no words to distract or stimulate your loved one’s brain. Just be sure to choose a slow tempo piece, and not Flight of the Bumblebee!
  • Piano and Jazz: Few things are more calming than a soft jazz tune or gentle piano piece. Look for songs that are between 50 and 60 beats-per-minute, without words or vocals. Ideal for older adults who enjoy these genres, both piano and jazz vary greatly in style, from old-timey to contemporary.
  • Nature Sounds: Nature’s soundtrack can provide your loved one with the right balance of sounds, both soothing and monotonous. There is a wide range of choices, including crickets, forest sounds, rain, waterfalls, and much more.
  • Ambient and New Age Music: Tried and true for aiding sleep, ambient and new age music are filled with relaxing instruments and often without words. Check out composer Max Richter’s 8-hour album specifically for sleep, or the song Weightless—considered to be the most sleep-inducing piece of music ever made.
  • Singing Bowls: There are few things more meditative than listening to the sound of singing bowls being played. An old Buddhist tradition, singing bowls provide a repetitive, calming sound thought to have healing properties.
  • Guided Meditation: Another good alternative to a melodic soundtrack, a guided audio meditation can be just the thing for older adults who need extra help getting to sleep. They can give your loved one something to focus on instead of the frustration of sleeplessness while increasing body awareness and encouraging relaxation.

Not only does nodding off to soothing sounds enable your loved one to enjoy a deeper rest, it can also encourage them to look forward to bedtime more. After all, having auditory help in letting go of the day’s stress can go a long way to helping them sleep soundly. Creating a relaxing atmosphere with music can allow your aging loved one to fully unwind—mentally, emotionally, and physically—and reap all the benefits of a good night’s rest.
If you’re unsure how to help your aging loved one get better sleep, Institute on Aging offers a range of programs, services, and online services. Connect with us today to learn more.

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