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Music is a Powerful Healer; Four Reasons to Turn on Some Tunes

music, music therapy

Music is often said to “heal the soul.” Research has found over the years that it not only can heal the soul, but has the potential to heal the body as well. Four new studies published this fall highlight the healing power of music.


Music Benefits Children with ADHD
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in ten American children suffer from attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Medications can help improve symptoms, but they do not work in all cases. Plus, many have adverse side effects, leading parents in search of alternative measures to help control symptoms of inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

Dr. William E. Pelham Jr from FIU Center for Children and Families and colleagues conducted a study that found that children with ADHD who listen to music while studying can help them better focus in order to complete their homework. The type of music didn’t seem to matter – the children in the study listened to radio stations that included everything from contemporary rock to rap.

"Rather than just assuming it's better for a child with ADHD to do their homework in complete silence, it may help their concentration to let them listen to music," added Pelham.
Pelham does note that the music did not help every patient in the study. Some of the children were distracted by the sounds around them. However, “If parents want to know if listening to music will help their child's performance in school, they should try it. Basically, it's trial and error. If a child's performance improves after trying the music for a period of time, then that's a pretty good indicator that the child falls into the subgroup of children that benefit from music," he said.

Listening to Music May Help Prevent Insomnia
Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint among Americans, affecting about 30-40% of adults at one time or another over the course of a year. The inability to fall asleep or remain asleep can have enormous health consequences, such as immune system disturbances and an increase in stroke risk, as well as economic consequences related to reduced productivity at work.

A new clinical study in the journal Brain and Behavior found that listening to music can regulate the brain, ultimately resulting in insomnia prevention. Charles H. Tegeler MD, a professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist, used a technology known as HIRREM, publicly known as Brainwave Optimization, which uses musical tones to send the brain’s frequencies back to itself. (Also see: 5 Amazing Reasons Music is the Best Gift To Humans).

Findings show that this investigative technique improved symptoms in insomnia in patients based on the results of the “Insomnia Severity Index” or ISI.

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While this study didn’t specifically test music itself on insomnia patients, it does back up previous research in the calming effects of music on the brain. Music is often one of the recommended solutions toward getting a good night’s sleep as it can help relieve stress and calm an overactive brain.

Music Therapy Improves Recovery in Surgery Patients
A new study from the University of Kentucky, published in the Southern Medical Journal, finds that music therapy may help reduce pain and recovery time in surgery patients. This supports previous studies that find that music can aid in pain relief, especially when there is anxiety involved - as would be the case for an impending operation.

"Music therapists have long known that music can be an effective tool to manage pain and anxiety," said Lori Gooding, UK director of music therapy and lead author on the review. Calm, slow, gentle music was especially shown to produce the most positive results and facilitate relaxation and pain reduction in patients.

Music Boosts Endorphins Better than “Runner’s High”
Most fitness experts agree that music can help motivate a person through an exercise session. But how, you might ask. Music has been found to increase endorphins, neurotransmitters that lead to feelings of euphoria, and increase the body’s threshold for pain.

Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford and colleagues from the University of Liverpool and Binghamton University found that music – whether by singing, dancing, or drumming – increased the body’s creation of endorphins. Those actually performing the music had more beneficial effects than those who just listened, so feel free to clap or sing along to your workout tunes.

Harley Pasternak, a celebrity fitness trainer, offers advice to choosing the best workout music. Songs that are consistently upbeat and that have a positive message are much more energizing than sad country ballads. Find music with the perfect tempo for your particular workout – faster music for running, more moderate music for weight lifting, and calm, soothing music for yoga and Pilates.

Remember that endorphins are also involved in the enhancement of the immune system, so adding music to your overall healthy lifestyle may also keep you healthy during cold and flu season.

Florida International University
Brain and Behavior, Volume 2, Issue 6: “Open label, randomized, crossover pilot trial of high-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electroencephalic mirroring to relieve insomnia”
Southern Medical Journal, Volume 105, Issue 9: “Using Music Interventions in Perioperative Care”
Evolutionary Psychology, Volume 10, Issue 4: “Performance of Music Elevates Pain Threshold and Positive Affect; Implications for the Evolutionary Function of Music"