Listening to music for insomnia in adults

This updated review assessed the effects of listening to music on sleep in adults with insomnia and assessed the influence of specific variables that may moderate the effect.

The review authors included 13 randomised controlled trials (RCTs), eight of which were new to this update, with 1007 participants. The studies compared the effects of listening to pre-recorded music daily, for 25 to 60 minutes, for a period of three days to three months with no treatment or treatment as usual (TAU).

The risk of bias within the studies varied, with all studies being at high risk of performance bias, because of limited possibilities to blind participants to the music intervention.

Four studies reported funding from national research councils, three from university sources and one from a private foundation. Five studies did not report any financial support.

The review authors found that, compared with no treatment or TAU, listening to music:

  • may improve sleep quality (mean difference (MD) −2.79, 95% confidence interval (CI) −3.86 to −1.72, 10 studies, 708 participants; moderate-quality evidence), measured with the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (range 0 to 21; higher scores indicating poorer sleep);
  • results in no clear evidence of a difference on insomnia severity (MD −6.96, 95% CI −15.21 to 1.28; 2 studies, 63 participants; very low-quality evidence), but the evidence is very uncertain;
  • may reduce problems with:
    • sleep-onset latency (MD −0.60, 95% CI −0.83 to −0.37; 3 studies, 197 participants; low-quality evidence);
    • total sleep time (MD −0.69, 95% CI −1.16 to −0.23; 3 studies, 197 participants; low-quality evidence); 
    • sleep efficiency (MD −0.96, 95% CI −1.38 to −0.54; 3 studies, 197 participants; low-quality evidence); and
  • may have no effect on perceived sleep interruption (MD −0.53, 95% CI −1.47 to 0.40; 3 studies, 197 participants; low-quality evidence).

They also found that listening to music may not improve objective measures of sleep-onset latency, total sleep time, sleep efficiency and sleep interruption (three studies, 136 participants), compared to no treatment or TAU.

None of the included studies reported any adverse effects.

The review authors concluded that music may be effective for improving subjective sleep quality in adults with symptoms of insomnia. They say that more research is needed to establish the effect of listening to music on other aspects of sleep as well as the daytime consequences of insomnia.

The evidence is current to December 2021.

Read the full review here on the Cochrane Library.