6 reasons why music improves wellbeing

Posted on Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Elderly women playing in a metal band

Most of us have loved music for as long as we can remember.

As babies, we bond with our mothers over softly sung lullabies. As kids, we bob up and down to Disney tunes. As teenagers, we zone out in our bedrooms to our favourite playlist. And as adults, we reminisce about the good ol’ days whenever we hear the classics.

Humans love music because it makes us feel good. But have you ever wondered why?

Neuroscientists have been researching it for decades, and there’s plenty more research to do. But in a nutshell, it all comes down to chemicals.

Here are six research-backed reasons why music is so good for our wellbeing.

1. Music boosts self-esteem

When we listen to music we enjoy, our bodies release dopamine – a neurotransmitter that’s usually dispensed during pleasurable activities, like sex or when we’re eating.

Since both of these functions are essential to survival, the fact that music stimulates dopamine has long puzzled scientists.

Dopamine gives us a sense of wellbeing and reward, and is also associated with motivation and attention – the perfect cocktail for a self-esteem boost.

Lady with blonde hair relaxing to music wearing headphones

2. Music induces relaxation

Imagine you’re having a massage at a day spa – but there’s none of that tranquil, instrumental music in the background. Would you still feel the same?

Of course, there’s a reason behind the Zen playlist.

Music can create alpha waves in the brain which help us feel more calm and relaxed.

So next time you need to unwind, just whip out your old Enya CD and press play. And if Enya isn’t your jam, that’s ok – anything goes!

3. Music evokes emotions

Ever listened to a song you hadn’t heard in a while and found yourself instantly transported to another time and place?

This sort of music-induced déjà vu is unique for each of us. Depending on our experiences, certain songs have special associations, serving as fond reminders of times gone by.

By involving the pre-frontal cortex – a part of our brain associated with memory - music can elicit all kinds of emotions.

It can be particularly powerful for people living with Alzheimer’s, since the pre-frontal cortex is often one of the last parts of the brain affected.

This viral video from the 2014 documentary Alive Inside shows the emotional reaction of a man with Alzheimer’s listening to his favourite jazz musician, Cab Calloway.

4. Music reduces agitation

If something is really grinding your gears and you could do with a dose of happy, give music a go.

Music stimulates oxytocin – a hormone related to positive, happy feelings. In a recent study, it was found that singing for half an hour significantly increased oxytocin levels, with amateur singers feeling more elated and energetic after the session.

Oxytocin is also doted as the ‘love’ hormone, since it plays a role in building empathy and trust. This makes music a powerful tool for social connection and bonding. 

5. Music alleviates stress

Cortisol is a hormone known for producing the fight-or-flight response and is the body’s main stress hormone.

Cortisol is essential, but too much for too long is a no-no for wellbeing. Listening to music can help reduce our levels of cortisol, and in turn, help us feel a little less stressed out.

In one study, researchers compared the stress response of three groups. The first group listened to relaxing music, the second listened to the sound of rippling water and the third listened to nothing at all. After a stress test, it was found that the music-listening group recovered much faster than the no-music groups, helping researchers better understand how music benefits the body.

Woman sleeping with pink eye mask

6. Music improves sleep

So – now we know that music can increase levels of oxytocin and decrease levels of cortisol, helping us feel happier and less stressed.

That in itself is a recipe for a better night’s sleep – and who doesn’t love that?

In a study in Taiwan, it was found that listening to soft music before bedtime significantly improved sleep quality in people aged over 60, reporting longer sleeps, better sleep efficiency, less sleep disturbance and less daytime dysfunction.

Everyone can benefit from music

It’s pretty clear – music has a major feel-good factor. Whether you’re enjoying it on your own or with others, no matter who you are or how old you are, the benefits are boundless.

At Brightwater, our music and wellbeing program explores how socially stimulating music can be for older people in the community and in residential aged care. Dubbed ‘The Music Pharmacy’, our unique concoction of rhythm and research not only aims to improve individual wellbeing – particularly for those with cognitive impairment including dementia – it also encourages meaningful connections with family, friends and caregivers.

Get in touch with us today for more information on the Music Pharmacy.