Music plays a big role in our lives whether we realize it or not. Even when we’re not making the conscious choice to listen to music ourselves, we’re often surrounded by it, whether it’s playing in a restaurant, a movie, an elevator, or the cab you had to hop into when the subway to work decided to take the morning off. Whether you live for New Music Fridays or just use your headphones as a cover up so people won’t try talking to you on your morning commute, music can be a lot more than just a silence-filler in your day-to-day, and there might be a way to use the tunes you listen to on the regular to your advantage when it comes to – get this – stress relief.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. In other words, music therapy can help you work through any life struggles you may be having. New York City musical therapist Maya Benattar helps her clients use music to calm anxiety, reduce stress and, by extension, get more sleep.
“It’s all a way to tap into emotions to explore relationships and thoughts and feelings in an embodied way,” she says. “It’s about moving out of our heads and back into our bodies and emotions, and music is really powerful for that.”
Benattar says that the secret to effectively using music as a therapy comes down to a variety of different exercises, including listening to music, talking about music, and creating music in the moment using instruments and song. For her clients suffering from anxiety, she even helps them use simple vocal exercises and sometimes even just breathing exercises as a way to feel more calm and grounded.
“Sometimes anxiety needs to be soothed and sometimes it needs to be expressed,” she says. “Often, it’s a mix of the two. But music is a great way to not just sooth anxiety and shove it under the rug, but to give it a voice. I will often ask clients to lean into the anxiety a little bit if they can and to pick a song that expresses the anxiety in some way, which allows us to explore what’s going on.”
And because anxiety and sleep troubles usually go hand in hand, Benattar also has tips for using music to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. For starters, she recommends focusing on the sounds and sensations of your inhales and exhales. Not only is this a way to slow down your nervous system, but your exhale can also mimic the calming sound of the ocean and the sound you get when you hold a large shell to your ear. Exhaling with a gentle hum or vowel sound can release tension and be very soothing, as well. She also recommends listening to music that helps you wind down in order to fall asleep or sooth yourself back to sleep if you wake up during the night.
“Lullabies in essence are simple, repetitive, calming songs, and at times we need that as adults,” she says. “Just because you’re not six months old anymore doesn’t mean you don’t need music, so I’ve encouraged people to find whatever music works for them.”
Moral of the story? Next time you’re having trouble knocking out at night, you can probably skip the sheep and opt for a Spotify session.
While music could be the secret to a successful slumber, another sure fix for a restless night is reBloom, the all-natural sleep drink that helps you get better rest night after night.