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CD REVIEW

Lulled to sleep at 60 to 80 beats?

Various artists "Bedtime Beats: The Secret to Sleep" (Rhino)

October 09, 2006|Rosie Mestel | Times Staff Writer

There are those who frequently wake up drooling into a couch cushion at 3 a.m. after nodding off during a movie: I count myself among them. Then there are others who lie in bed staring at the ceiling for hours, desperately straining for unconsciousness.

Millions of them, in fact. By some estimates, insomnia afflicts 30% to 40% of adults at any particular time -- with about 5% to 10% suffering severely or chronically enough to warrant a medical diagnosis.

"Bedtime Beats: The Secret to Sleep," a two-CD selection of gentle, classical favorites, promises to help them drift off to the land of Nod. The set, a collection of about 20 famous works (such as Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata, Satie's "Gymnopedie No. 1" and Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Infanta") is easy on the ear and emotionally unintrusive -- sensible enough selection criteria for lullaby tunes. One wouldn't, presumably, compile a medley of Motorhead ditties for this purpose, nor yet ones by Edgard Varese, who favored gongs, cymbals, maracas and high-pitched and low-pitched sirens for his compositions.

But there is more to the CD set than that -- there is science, claims its creator, a New York-based music, lifestyle and entertainment development firm called Smash Arts. (The compilation was co-released by Smash Arts and Burbank's Rhino Entertainment in September and is available at retail outlets as well as www.rhino.com.)

The pieces, according to Bedtime Beats' promotional blurb, were chosen to fit specific criteria: All lack extreme variations in volume and tempo, and all lilt along at a soothing 60 to 80 beats per minute -- nicely matching the resting adult heartbeat. "People of all ages can benefit from the package, provided they listen daily for at least two weeks at the outset and begin listening to the CDs at least 15 minutes before bedtime," the promotional material declares.

The scientific linchpin appears to be a study published in 2005 titled "Music Improves Sleep Quality in Older Adults," by Taiwanese student Hui-Ling Lai and Marion Good, professor in the school of nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. ("I think it's exciting that they're interested in taking something from my study," says Good, who consulted on the CD compilation but hasn't heard the final version.)

Lai and Good's study included 60 Taiwan residents age 60 to 83 years -- all had difficulties sleeping -- who were divided into two groups. Half received their choice of music to listen to before bedtime. They had various genres to select from, including New Age, traditional Chinese, slow jazz and popular oldies, but all hewed to the 60 to 80 beat rule. The other 30 subjects didn't get the music, and in fact were discouraged from listening to music at bedtime.

During the study's three-week course, the group receiving music therapy had, on average, fewer problems sleeping, as self-reported on a sleep scale known as the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. The subjects who received music said they fell asleep sooner, slept better and longer and felt better during the day.

But this study may be less compelling than it appears at first flush, according to several sleep researchers.

For starters, these scientists said, the group who received music could easily have improved via the power of the placebo effect: The subjects knew they were getting some kind of therapy and the power of the mind could have helped them, as it can, at least temporarily. The control group not only received no music but didn't receive any convincing fake therapy either.

The study also relied on people's self-reports rather than objective measures and didn't test whether other tempos of music were less effective than 60 to 80 beats. Maybe one could be reasonably sure that Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" wouldn't send people floating off toward Morningtown, but the same can't be said for less frenetic melodies.

Sleep researcher Dr. William Dement, chief of the division of sleep medicine at Stanford University's School of Medicine, says that over the years he's been sent numerous sound recordings with purported soporific qualities: lapping waves, purring cats, you name it. And he's tested the effect of music in sleep labs -- places where people snooze with electrodes on their heads so that the phases of their sleep, such as REM, can be carefully measured.

"I've tried music, I've tried rhythm, I've tried wavelike motions -- others surely have too," Dement says. He's yet to find any remarkable effect.

Yet he doesn't rule out that this study might have stumbled onto something, or that music -- or simply sound -- might help. He uses sounds himself, at times. "I like to have something on the radio -- maybe NPR -- just at my level of auditory perception so I can listen to it," he says. "It distracts you from saying, 'Oh, my God, I'm not falling asleep.' "

The bottom line? "People need to take sleep seriously, to find out what works for them," he says. "If it's soothing music, great. If it's a certain kind of bed, great."

Bedtime Beats is a pleasant set of music and at least one person I know is now enjoying it at nighttime, regardless of whether it carries the imprimatur of science. What works for me would more likely be the living room couch, a glass of wine and the company of BBC America's scandal-stuffed "Footballers Wives," or DVDs of past seasons of "The Sopranos," which run their course then spend the rest of the night cycling through staccato mobster utterances by Paulie or Tony. Through it all, I sleep like a baby.

The dreams, though: They're something else.

rosie.mestel@latimes.com

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