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Music as an ally against insomnia

June 7, 2023

Ten universities and institutions from Europe have already begun a big research project to discover how music affects the brain before and during sleep – and which are the most effective qualities that can be used to induce it. The project, called Lullabyte, intends to study the relationship between music and insomnia taking into account the needs and profiles of each person to find an alternative to drug treatments.

The Lullabyte project unites musicology and neuroscience with other disciplines such as psychology, computer science, and data science. The work will focus on finding out how music or sound can help not only to fall asleep but also to sleep more deeply and more peacefully.

One of the participants, The Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), in Barcelona, is responsible for studying sleeping patients and figuring out how to convert brain wave data into music or sound. In an interview with El País newspaper, Sergi Jordá, UPF’s lead researcher on the project, points out that although we spend a third of our lives sleeping, it is curious how little we know about it. According to him, the Spanish researchers will start by generating synthetic sounds, “like electronic music,” in real-time. “An individual’s brain activity will determine the sounds that are generated,” he said.

Besides the Catalan university, nine other institutions from Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and other countries are taking part in the project, which began earlier this year and will conclude in 2026. The project is funded with a €2.5 million ($2.76 million) grant from the Horizon Europe program.

What Science knows so far

In 2021, a meta-analysis published in the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine found that music intervention helped improve inpatients in coronary and intensive care units, as well as the sleep of the elderly. 

Another review published the same year in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society stated that between 40% and 70% of seniors have trouble sleeping and more than 40% suffer from insomnia. Along those lines, according to the authors, music improved the quality of sleep for these people, who lived at home, when they listened to it between 30 minutes and an hour before going to bed. The researchers blamed their effect on music’s ability to decrease heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure, thus reducing anxiety and stress.

Source: Lullabyte | Music Technology Group (UPF) | EL PAÍS