Dr Gaelen ‘Thomas’ Dickson

The Science of Music for Sleep

Music Psychology Expert (Researcher | Entrepreneur)
PhD UNSW | Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, specialising in the use of music as a sleep aid and primary author of “How Does Music Aid Sleep? Literature Review”. I’ve combined music psychology research, and app development to build a world-first sleep app that composes relaxing music for sleep. My research interests include music for sleep, music for focus, music for relaxation and music for peak performance. I am keen to give actionable and evidence-based advice around using music as a tool to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals.

YouTube Channel

Biohacking With Music

Check out my Vlog where I detail how music can be used as a tool to improve performance and wellbeing of individuals and businesses.

Can’t Sleep App

Can’t Sleep App was invented by Dr Thomas Dickson, an Australian expert in music and sleep psychology. The artificially intelligent music helps you sleep by distracting you from wakeful thoughts, calming your mood and relaxing your body. Simply choose your soundscape in the app, enjoy new relaxing music and you’ll wake up tomorrow having forgotten falling asleep. Try it now Free for 7-days and sleep better tonight!

Download Free 30 Day Music For Sleep Prescription

  • Spotify Playlist
  • Book Summary
  • Sleep Checklist
  • How to choose the best music for you
  • Guide to using Can’t Sleep App
  • and much more


Some of Thomas’concepts around music, cognition and emotion.

Low Distraction Music vs Normal Music vs Ambience

Distraction From Melodies

Distraction From Musical Transitions

Distraction From Song Transitions

Music Takes Atleast 30 Days Before It Improves Sleep Quality

Colourful Notes

ColourLabelSegmentApplication Examples
RedSimulatingHigh Engagement & StimulatingDance, Exercise
OrangeAccompanyingModerate Engagement & StimulatingDriving, Cooking
YellowFocusingLow Engagement & StimulatingStudy, Problem Solving, Concentration
WhiteFillingHigh Engagement & UnemotionalMuzak, White noise
GreyAmbienceModerate Engagement & UnemotionalMood music
BlackCancellingLow Engagement & UnemotionalNoise cancelling
GreenVisualisingHigh Engagement & SedatingRecollections, Daydreaming
BlueRelaxingModerate Engaging & SedatingYoga, Relaxation
PurpleMeditativeLow Engaging & SedatingSleep, Meditation

Listen To Music

Listen to samples of music generated by Can’t Sleep App below.


Music For Sleep

Soon! I’m currently writing this book. If you are interested sign up and I’ll let you know when it’s done. Alternatively, if you are interested you can get a free copy in advance as “beta reader”.


Listen to Dr Thomas Dickson discuss the science of music for sleep on Radio New Zealand.

Dr Thomas Dickson’s Interviews & Appearances


Read Dr Dickson’s Research on the Psychology of Music For Sleep

With the growth of interest in using music to treat insomnia, there is a need to collect and evaluate the literature. This paper reviews disparate literature and assesses the various kinds of assertions and hypotheses made by researchers about music’s efficacy in assisting sleep. Six main researcher proposed reasons (RPR) for how music aids sleep were identified in the literature: (1) relaxation, where music encourages physiological or psychological relaxation; (2) distraction, where music acts as a focal point to distract from inner stressful thoughts; (3) entrainment, synchronization of biological rhythms to beat structures in music; (4) masking, obscuring noxious background noise with music; (5) enjoyment, listening to preferred, emotionally relatable or pleasant music; and (6) expectation, individuals cultural beliefs around music. We evaluated each RPR in terms of the evidence available in the extant literature. Masking RPR was identified as having support for improving sleep. Relaxation, distraction and enjoyment RPR had mixed levels of support. Expectation RPR had possible support. Entrainment had mixed possible support. The paper discusses interactions between RPRs, and a call is made to turn research attention to sequencing the RPRs and possible RPR mediators, with relaxation being a likely mediator of several RPRs.

This paper investigated why music may aid sleep. 161 university students completed an online survey about the reasons music aided or inhibited sleep. Responses were then analysed through directed content analysis. Six researcher proposed reasons for how music could potentially aid sleep were identified: (1) entrainment, (2) masking, (3) enjoyment, (4) distraction, (5) expectation and (6) relaxation. 84.47% of participants reported listening to music as a sleep aid. Relaxation and distraction were found to have the greatest influence on the participant’s decision to use music as a sleep aid. However, distraction was also the most frequently reported reason for not listening to music for sleep because it could increase wakefulness. Expectation, masking and enjoyment were significantly under-represented as reasons to listen to music. Entrainment was significantly under-represented as both a reason for and for not listening to music. Relaxation appears to be a unique reason for music aiding but not hindering sleep and may have particular significance for research on music and sleep. The present study demonstrated the importance of teasing apart (a) how well known a particular approach is in connection with sleep versus (b) the utility of the same approach for sleep induction in comparison to perpetuating wakefulness.

Background: Music is thought to be beneficial as a sleep aid. However, little research has explicitly investigated the specific characteristics of music that aid sleep and some researchers assume that music described as generically sedative (slow, with low rhythmic activity) is necessarily conducive to sleep, without directly interrogating this assumption. This study aimed to ascertain the features of music that aid sleep.

Method: As part of an online survey, 161 students reported the pieces of music they had used to aid sleep, successfully or unsuccessfully. The participants reported 167 pieces, some more often than others. Nine features of the pieces were analyzed using a combination of music information retrieval methods and aural analysis.

Results: Of the pieces reported by participants, 78% were successful in aiding sleep. The features they had in common were that (a) their main frequency register was middle range frequencies; (b) their tempo was medium; (c) their articulation was legato; (d) they were in the major mode, and (e) lyrics were present. They differed from pieces that were unsuccessful in aiding sleep in that (a) their main frequency register was lower; (b) their articulation was legato, and (c) they excluded high rhythmic activity.

Conclusion: Music that aids sleep is not necessarily sedative music, as defined in the literature, but some features of sedative music are associated with aiding sleep. In the present study, we identified the specific features of music that were reported to have been successful and unsuccessful in aiding sleep. The identification of these features has important implications for the selection of pieces of music used in research on sleep.

Research on the efficacy of music for improving sleep quality has produced mixed results. We investigated whether the number of music dosages could be a reason for the lack of clarity. Six longitudinal music sleep studies using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) over 3 weeks were identified. Music when compared to active (audiobooks or medication) or passive controls significantly improved (improvement is reflected by a lower score) PSQI within the first or second week of prescription. The improvement was an average mean difference of −1.15 (SD = 0.53) for each week. Music dosages continued to be associated with improved PSQI over a study that had a 3-month music intervention. One study with a low initial PSQI score resulted in poor sleepers (PSQI > 5) achieving healthy sleep (PSQI < 5) within 3 weeks of regular music intervention. For future studies, “prescribing” music beyond 3 weeks may lead to more instances of healthy sleep, particularly for those who have mild sleep problems. To explain the findings, we proposed that the relationship between weeks of music listening and improved PSQI are attributed to the truncation of poor bedtime habits linked to ruminative tendencies and consequent hyperarousal prior to the music intervention. Music listening at bedtime replaces those bad habits, we argue, by forming a new psychological link between bedtime and sleep through evaluative conditioning. The findings of the present study provide disarming evidence of the potential for prescription of music for treating mild sleep disorder.


Contact Dr Thomas Dickson about his research, mobile app, book or free resources.