Choosing the Right Music to Help Your Baby Sleep
From the moment parents welcome their newborn, helping their baby establish a healthy sleep routine becomes an important priority. Every baby is different, and each will have their own pattern of falling asleep.
Sleep is vital for infants and young children, who need both quality (how well you sleep) and quantity (how much you sleep). Indeed, scientific research has continuously highlighted the influence of the baby’s sleep on not only the child’s overall development, but also on the caregiver’s quality of care, and physical and mental health.
“Music inspires emotions, so music can be a popular recommendation to soothe the little one peacefully. And it is a welcome addition to the baby’s sleep routine.”
-UNICEF Parenting UNICEF
Falling asleep at the right time
Babies need to learn to fall asleep at the right time. Music can be a catalyst that begins the sleep cycle, and is a helpful tool that aids in the sleep training process. By playing music, parents use an obvious and gentle cue to remind the child that it’s now time for bed—this is called the “sleep ritual”. As each baby is different, sleep rituals will vary with the child’s personality and sensitivity to their different senses. Some may rely more on touch (pacifiers), smell (mother’s smell), taste (breastfeeding), etc. However, the most common “sleep ritual” is dimming of the light source (sight) and playing mellow music (hearing).
You should carefully select your baby’s sleep music
With that being said, baby sleep music is a tool that should be used with care. This is because inappropriate or the wrong music may cause more problems—such as waking your baby or making them more alert. To establish a “bedtime ritual”, we recommend using soft pop music that is accompanied by strings, or light classical music with simple instruments. This type of music is also called “background music” (elevator music) or lullabies. The music in your baby’s lullaby playlist should be carefully selected, consisting of light music with little to no change in both volume and tempo.
It is important to note that the music mentioned in this article is music that will aid in putting your baby to bed. Experts suggest that this music should end before the baby actually falls asleep or enters into deep sleep. Stopping the music at the right time will ensure the baby’s hearing sense is truly resting, and allows the baby’s brain to more easily enter the resting metabolic state.
The scientific significance of lullabies
A familiar lullaby provides a relaxing environment for your baby, effectively creating a soothing atmosphere that helps to develop good sleep habits. The environment will help slow your baby’s heartbeat, calm and deepen breathing, and allow your baby to fall asleep with ease.
Many children will, from infancy, show their preference for a particular song or lullaby. Indeed, many adults will still be able to find solace upon hearing a familiar melody, even many years later. Our memories are closely tied to our senses, and hearing is one of our primary senses, allowing us to recall past feelings, emotions or situations. Therefore, experts also actively encourage parents to sing lullabies or hum along with the background music. The voice of the parent or caregiver is magical—when the baby falls asleep listening to a familiar and calm voice, it will not only give the child a sense of security, but also support the steady development of their physical and mental health.
The end goal: establishing healthy sleep habits
The ultimate goal is for your baby to establish sleep habits at an early stage, and be able to fall asleep reliably in any situation. Listening to lullabies to help with sleep is not about only being able to fall asleep listening to a specific lullaby. We don’t want the baby to react negatively to every change in their environment (such as going to a nursery center) or travel (long-distances or overnight), resulting in poor quality sleep. Ideally, the lullaby merely plays a role to initiate a sleep ritual and establish healthy sleep habits.The development of such habits requires the joint effort of the child and the parents. We hope that every baby can sleep well—with the right amount of sleep, babies will be healthy and happy and, in turn, bring joy to the parents!
‘How Music Affects Your Baby’s Brain: Mini Parenting Master Class’ <https://www.unicef.org/parenting/child-development/how-music-affects-your-babys-brain-class> [accessed 30 June 2022]
Mindell, Jodi A., and Ariel A. Williamson, ‘Benefits of a Bedtime Routine in Young Children: Sleep, Development, and Beyond’, Sleep Medicine Reviews, 40 (2018), 93–108 <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2017.10.007>
Schneeberg, Lynelle, Become Your Child’s Sleep Coach: The Bedtime Doctor’s 5-Step Guide, Ages 3-10, 2019