Music to Our Ears: Older Adults’ Sleep Quality Improves with Music Therapy

The prevalence of sleep disturbance among older adults is somewhere from 40 to 70%, which can have significant impacts on cognitive function and physical health. Researchers are consistently seeking remedies that can attenuate the impacts of sleep disturbance, which can range from cognitive impairment to emotional distress to an increased risk of falling incidents. A new study included a systematic review of all existing literature on studies assessing remedies for sleep disturbance, specifically on the effect of music therapy.

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis—a sophisticated statistical analysis combining the results of multiple scientific studies—to provide a more complete picture of the overall effect. They specifically targeted five large databases and identified all the studies that assessed the efficacy of music therapy in people 65 years of age and better. Music therapy is the evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish goals within therapeutic settings. The analysis revealed that older adults who listened to music before bed experienced significantly better sleep quality than those who did not listen to music.

Further analysis showed that older adults who listened to sedative music (i.e., slow tempo of 60 to 80 beats per minute, soft volume, and smooth melody, like something someone may expect to find at a spa) received more effective improvements in sleep quality than those who listened to rhythm-centered music (i.e., drum or percussion instrument sounds). Time was also found to be important; older adults who listened to music for longer than four weeks experienced even longer-lasting sleep quality improvement.

The researchers say more studies are needed to explore the effect of music therapy on sleep quality in other age groups and in different environments. They conclude by offering the recommendation that music therapy can be used as a safe, easy, and effective way to improve sleep quality for older adults, particularly those listening to sedative music.


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Chen C‐T, Tung H‐H, Fang C‐J, et al. Effect of music therapy on improving sleep quality in older adults: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Journal of American Geriatric Society. 2021; 1– 8.

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