When a Michigan funk band called Vulfpeck released an album of ten silent songs on Spotify, they were really onto a good sound.
Spotify pays by the listen, so Vulfpeck asked fans to hit play on the album – named Sleepify – right before they went to bed. By streaming ten silent tracks in their sleep, Vulfpeck’s listeners earned the band $20,000 before Spotify pulled the plug.
But not everybody wants silence when they sleep. Some struggle to quieten their minds without music to listen to, as long as it’s the right music. The rhythm and tone of a lullaby or gentle pop song ease you to sleep by calming your nervous system, slowing your breathing and heart rate, and lowering blood pressure.
Morning Life is on a quest to give you the perfect night’s sleep, so we decided to use science to find the pop songs that most closely match the characteristics of the world’s favourite lullabies.
We analysed 100 lullabies on Spotify using 10 audio features such as tempo and scale (major or minor). And then we compared our results to a curated list of 1,721 songs, including Spotify’s most streamed and essential tunes from a range of genres. You can see our full methodology in the infographic below (and at the foot of the article).
Scroll on to find the most sleep-inducing songs from your favourite acts and genres – according to science.
Billie Eilish is Pop’s Most Sleep-Inducing Artist
First up, here are the ten chart songs (out of the 500 most streamed songs of the last decade) that are the most lullaby-like, according to our special formula. Each song was rated 0-100 depending on its similarity to the musical values of the perfect lullaby, according to analysis features built into Spotify.
Modern legend Billie Eilish puts a new spin on the term “bedroom producer,” delivering three of the most sleep-inducing pop songs of the last decade. Eilish famously recorded many of her top tracks in her brother’s bedroom, and her popularity is often ascribed to her intimate, headphone-friendly sound.
Post Malone’s Spider-Verse Track is Hip Hop’s Sleepiest Song
You can hip, and you can hop – but can you stop? With its dance-oriented roots, you might not think hip hop is the most obvious genre with which to fall asleep. But the top ten sleepiest rap songs all have at least two-thirds in common with the sonics of the ideal lullaby.
Post Malone and Swae Lee’s melancholy Spider-Verse track, Sunflower, is the track most likely to give you that stop. The song is sleepier even than the gloopy winter vibes of Bing Crosby’s crooned classic White Christmas – by a full 0.6%.
Elton John’s Your Song is Rock’s Most Effective Lullaby
Prefer your rock more Rock-a-bye Baby than We Will Rock You? Every rock outfit has its sentimental moment (one per album as standard), and even Led Zeppelin has a sleep-inducing tune in the top ten.
Elton John is at number one with his breakthrough hit, Your Song, which almost replicates the thought patterns of the overactive mind in bed: “If I was a sculptor, but then again, no… Or a man who makes potions in a traveling show…”
The Chainsmokers’ The One is Number One Electronic Lullaby
When Looney Tunes composer Raymond Scott released a cutting-edge collection of electronic “Soothing Sounds for Baby” in 1964, reviewers called his synthesised music “skull splitting.” Scott’s outlandish bleeps and bloops set the tone for the least sleepy genre in our study.
Electronic is the only genre not to feature a track with a sleepiness score of at least 70. Indeed, the Chainsmokers’ number one song is mostly a piano and vocals affair, with the bloops only kicking in towards the end to drag you from the claws of slumber.
Church and Ballet Music Among Sleepiest in Classical Genre
With its absence of amplifiers and fewer vocals, classical music is well-poised to claim its place as the genre most likely to put you to sleep. That said, the number two is only vocals – choral church music written by the 12th-century nun, philosopher, and mystic Hildegard of Bingen. Could she have imagined this honour 900 years ago?
Lots of people have fallen asleep during church music, but the sleepiest classical piece in our study is a dance. It comes from the ballet Sylvia, ou La nymphe de Diane and is styled after a polka – albeit a very sleepy one.
Girl Crush by Little Big Town is Country’s Sleeper Hit
Country music is defined by its location, instrumentation, and big hats rather than a genre-wide purpose such as ‘getting you to sleep.’ Different country songs may be used to mourn, dance, or torture. The country ballad, however, has long been used by the campfire and at the bedside to create a calm, sleepy environment.
Little Big Town’s dubious gay anthem, Girl Crush, is the most likely to put listeners to sleep. However, Cam’s Burning House is only 0.2% less sleep-inducing, according to our calculations, and it doesn’t contain the off-putting phrase “I don’t get no sleep” like Girl Crush does.
The Sleepiest Tracks from Kanye, Coldplay, Disney, and Others
Okay, so you know which artist you want to sing you to sleep – but do you know which of their songs will be most effective? We applied our lullaby formula to seven of pop music’s all-time legends plus the Disney back-catalogue to identify which tracks you should add to your sleepy ‘Best of’ playlist.
Science has already shown us that Radiohead’s saddest song is True Love Waits. But we can now announce that the song is also Radiohead’s most perfect lullaby, with its sonic values 82.8% similar to the aggregate of the top 100 traditional lullabies. Desert Island Disk, from the same album, is the second, while you need to go all the way to #14 (Fake Plastic Trees) to reach a track from their stirring breakout album, The Bends. Fade out, indeed…
We are the playlist generation. Vibes have replaced genres, and all anyone wants is to listen to endless feeling without jarring changes.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh. There’s still a time and a place for a rollercoaster album-listening experience. But there’s one vibe where consistency has always been a valuable musical trait: the lullaby. Calm, repetitive refrains with a soft texture. Zzzzzzzzz.
Fancy catching some of those Z’s with your favourite kind of music? You can use the interactive table below to filter by genre and choose scientifically-recommended songs to choose your own sleepy playlist.
METHODOLOGY & SOURCES
To discover the most sleep-inducing songs, we conducted three main steps.
Step 1: Curate Seed Lists
To discover the formula for a sleep-inducing song, we wanted to find the average audio features of songs intended to help us sleep: lullabies. We built a list of 100 of the most popular lullabies across the US and UK, consulting YouTube viewing figures and Spotify listening numbers to verify their popularity.
To build the seed list of songs, we wanted to check the Sleep Song Scale. We pulled a list of the 500 most streamed songs in the previous 10 years, according to Kworb. Beyond that, we consulted sources such as Billboard and Classic FM to curate genre-specific seed lists. See below for more sources.
Overall (top 500 songs) – https://kworb.net/spotify/country/us_weekly_totals.html
Electronic (all years) – https://www.billboard.com/charts/year-end/2021/dance-electronic-streaming-songs/
Hip Hop (all years) – https://www.billboard.com/charts/year-end/2021/rap-streaming-songs/
Rock (top 500) – https://www.rocknrollamerica.net/Top1000.html
Country (all years) – https://www.billboard.com/charts/year-end/2021/country-streaming-songs/
Step 2: Create the “Sleep Song Scale”
Using Spotify’s API, we measured the average value for 10 audio features across the 100 lullabies.
Acousticness: how acoustic the track is
Danceability: based on tempo, rhythm stability, and beat strength
Energy: the intensity and activity based on loudness, timbre, and entropy
Instrumentalness: the presence of vocals
Loudness: the average decibels across a track
Mode: major or minor scale
Speechiness: the presence of spoken word on a track
Tempo: the average beats per minute
Time Signature: how many beats are in each bar
Valence: the musical positiveness/negativeness conveyed by the track
We scaled these features using an SVM classifier. For a more detailed explanation of this method, please consult this PDF: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1Xoif03OhTsQJMMlOB_1UD-CplkdIBlpn
Step 3: Apply the “Sleep Song Scale” to popular chart songs
Using Spotify’s API, we discovered the audio features of a big seed list of popular tracks across a range of genres, from hip hop to electronic to country. These songs were then assigned scores on the Sleep Song Scale according to how closely their audio features match a typical lullaby.
For simplicity, these scores were scaled into the range 0-100 (where 0 is the track “Escape from the Cave” from Disney’s Aladdin OST and 100 is the lullaby “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean”). A bigger score means a greater proximity of the track to the lullabies.
The data were collected in February 2022.