Musical Interlude Helps Sleep Quality, Research Shows

“Healing music” customized to match patient’s brain wave patterns

by Jessica Whiteside

August 12, 2002 — Sleep scientists at the University of Toronto are pursuing research that’s music to insomniacs’ ears.

Researchers in the sleep clinic of U of T’s psychiatry department and the University Health Network’s Toronto Western Hospital are studying the ability of “brain music” to help people relax and improve the quality of their sleep.

To create this music, researchers study a person’s brain waves to determine which rhythmic and tonal sound patterns create a meditative condition in that individual. A special computer program developed by the researchers or a music therapist who is a member of the research team then selects unique “healing” music that will create those same brain wave patterns when the individual is trying to sleep.

The brain music appears to alleviate some psychosomatic symptoms such as anxiety without the potential to cause dependency that has raised concerns with some pharmacological treatments for insomnia, says psychiatry professor Leonid Kayumov. “Brain music therapy, because of its more favorable side-effect profile, may represent a possible alternative for therapeutic management of insomnia and anxiety. From ancient times through to the present, philosophers, historians and scientists have written and spoken of music as a therapeutic agent.”

At the annual Associated Professional Sleep Societies’ meeting in Seattle, Wash. in June, Kayumov and colleagues presented findings from a study that found brain music reduced anxiety and improved sleep in subjects who had complained of insomnia of at least two years in duration. Ten volunteers listened to brain music created specifically for them; another eight, used as a control group, listened to placebo music. While both groups experienced reduced anxiety after listening to the music over a four-week period, the effect was more pronounced in the experimental group listening to the customized brain music.

Jessica Whiteside is a news services officer with the Department of Public Affairs.

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