Do your older clients have trouble falling asleep? Counting sheep might not work, but soft, slow music could help them achieve a restful night’s sleep, according to a study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing (2005; 49 [3], 234–44).

Scientists at Tzu Chi University in Taiwan studied the sleep patterns of 60 people between 60 and 83 years of age who had difficulty sleeping. Researchers divided the participants into two groups and observed them for 3 weeks: One group listened to sedative music (60–80 beats per minute) at bedtime for 45 minutes; the other group had no sleep aid. Musical choices included New Age, harp, piano, orchestral, folk and slow jazz, all without accented beats, percussive characteristics or syncopation.

Lead author of the study, Hui-Ling Lai, director of nursing at the Buddhist Tzu Chi General Hospital and assistant professor at Tzu Chi University, told the BBC, “The music group reported a 26% overall improvement in the first week, and this figure continued to rise as they mastered the technique of relaxing into sedative music.” Improved sleep quality included longer sleep duration, greater sleep efficiency, less sleep disturbance and less daytime dysfunction. Sleep improved each week, indicating a cumulative effect.

Other studies suggest that music is helpful in reducing anxiety among older adults with dementia. Researchers have called for more studies on music and other alternative interventions that lack the harmful side effects associated with many prescription medications.