Music Psychology

Can’t Sleep – The best Android Google Play store App for sleep (2019)

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Our brand-new Android version of Can’t Sleep App (2019)


“We’re very excited to release our new Android app this September 2019. In this guide, I’ll be uncovering the new research, features and improvements for Can’t Sleep including why these updates matter and how you can get the most out of the new app.” Thomas Dickson (Australian expert in the Psychology of Music for sleep) Included in our brand-new Android rebuilt for Can’t Sleep:

  • Improved AI composer for our sound engine
  • More instrument tracks (now including percussion and tenor)
  • More than 200 instruments and sounds to choose from
  • Support for more android devices and operating systems (including tablets)
  • Sleek and simple user interface
  • Improved performance, less disk space and decreased battery draining
  • Available in 12 languages

Pre-Order Now or Join the Android Beta Program


Better music and sounds composed by our Android soundscape sound engine

Can’t Sleep app composes new music in realtime whilst you listen, meaning the music never gets boring or repetitive. Over the past eight months, we’ve significantly improved the listening experience. Our soundscape engine has more musical features we can alter, making a big difference in how the app sounds in three ways:

  1. Themes have an increasingly unique personality
  2. The soundscapes continue to be engaging over time
  3. We can easily change the sound of the theme to better match your taste

As a subscriber, you can access all themes (instead of Baroque only) to find which soundscape is best for your sleeping experience. Research suggests self-selected music within a researcher selected playlist may be most effective in aiding sleep and hence, we’ve created more variety within our framework.


More instrument tracks to suit your listening experience

Our internal research has found that some individuals need soundscapes that are a little more engaging to fall asleep. We’ve added two more instrument tracks to support this, so you can have more sounds if you notice your mind starts to wander too much. Our instrument & sound tracks include:

  1. Soprano – high pitch instruments
  2. Alto – medium-high pitch instruments
  3. Tenor – medium-low pitch instruments
  4. bass – low-pitch instruments
  5. Drum – low rhythmic beat instruments
  6. Percussion – high-medium rhythmic instruments
  7. SFX – sound effects
  8. Ambience – recordings of white noise, nature etc

As you familiarise yourself with Can’t Sleep, you may choose to disable some of the above tracks for a more sleep conducive experience. For example, percussion might be too activating or ambience might be distracting.


More than 200 instruments and sounds added to Can’t Sleep Android

As a researcher, I am continuously intrigued by what sounds and music individuals use as a sleep aid. The list appears to be endless and we want to ensure you can access sounds and instruments that best helps you sleep. For this reason, we have added more sounds to the themes. Subscribers to Can’t Sleep receive access to the DIY builder to create soundscapes with combinations of their preferred instruments, sound effects and ambience. Accessing the sounds you have associated with sleep in the past can help you sleep in the present. Conversely, choosing new sounds you like and listening to them every night can create a new association with that sound and sleep. It’s pivotal to listen to specific music for sleep and sleep only, otherwise, you risk mixed associations.


Can’t Sleep now supports more android devices and operating systems (including tablets 2019)

My colleagues and I have spoken with many individuals suffering sleep problems. Poor sleep impacts tech fanatics with the latest android devices, people who are using old devices and elderly people who might require larger tablets with increased font size. To help poor sleepers of all shapes and sizes we’ve increased the number of supported devices and Android operating systems.


A cleaner and simpler user interface

From our customer research and user feedback, we’ve identified you want a simple and easy solution to get started. In our new version of Can’t Sleep, we’ve simplified the interface so that you can start listening to our relaxing soundscapes with the click of two buttons.


Save your Android battery life and disk space

We’ve achieved record low battery and CPU impact with our new sound engine. This way you can listen to Can’t Sleep App without being concerned about battery drain or overheating. Can’t Sleep also turns off after 45 minutes (recommended in the music sleep psychology literature) saving your battery. For the small size of 120mb, you can listen to unlimited music for sleep without any internet or further downloads required.


Choose from 12 languages in Can’t Sleep (new to 2019)

Music is a universal language and research supports music aiding sleep for a wide variety of different cultures. With our new version of Can’t Sleep we’ve included localization support for Chinese (simplified & traditional), Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.


Want More?


Music Psychology Sleep

Calming Music for when you Can’t Sleep Tips & Checklist (2019)

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Calming Music for when you Can’t Sleep Tips & Checklist (2019)


Music assisted relaxation (calming music) when you can’t sleep

When you can’t sleep music assisted relaxation (MAR), the process of listening to calming music at bedtime may help you achieve faster and deeper sleep. Due to the musical similarities to the therapeutic use of music for relaxation, music for sleep is also referred to as music therapy, sedative music, relaxing music, calming music and sleep-inducing music.

Calming Music Can't Sleep Woman

The Story behind this calming music for when you can’t sleep guide

When I was studying my undergraduate in music a few years back, I found it mesmerising that music could change or alter my mood.

When I discovered music psychology, it supported this, proving music’s ability to alter our physiological and cognitive state.

Well, in actuality, when I looked deeper, I saw that music could be used as a tool and has the capability to aid sleep.

Fascinated, I undertook my honours (which eventually became a PhD) in the psychology of music as a sleep aid.

But when I performed a preliminary survey of students at my university, what I saw was that not everyone was having success with music and that may be in part because of the music they were listening to and the way they listened to it.

One look at the pieces of music the participants had tried to help them sleep got me like:

Calming Music Can't Sleep Loud Noises

However, not all was lost. Through countless hours of hard work and research, I learned many of the reasons why music could aid sleep and the musical features that matter.

For the sake of brevity, I will mention the features of music that are the most quintessential to my research and how they may aid sleep.

At last, I am in the final stages of publishing research and presenting how music could aid sleep and possible help you sleep better!

Calming Music Can't Sleep Australian Expert

Free Bonus:

  • Click here to get a free summary checklist of all the tips for using music when you can’t sleep in this post (the checklist also includes 2 bonus strategies and additional details not covered in this post)

You may wonder:

“This music thing sounds so useful for sleep, but how can I do it?”

To help you get started, here are three steps that guide you through the process of using music for sleep:

How to use calming music when you can’t sleep?

Step 1: Find the right music to listen to

Step 2: Using music in the right way

Step 3: Combining music with other sleep strategies

Note: If you find the tips below useful, remember to get the summary checklist here.

How to use calming music for when you can’t sleep?

Calming Music Can't Sleep Listening To

Step 1: Find the right calming music to listen to

One of the biggest aspects of improving your sleep with music-assisted relaxation is the choice of music. Thus, improving your sleep should start from implementing the right music.

a) Choose calming music that is not too engaging

To start, try and think about the music used to help infants sleep, lullabies. These are simple songs and very different to the music children sing, play and dance to such as the wiggles. Similarly, you wouldn’t listen to your favourite pop, rock or dance music when trying to sleep because it’s too engaging. Instead here are three great music genres to guide you through the hunt for quality sleep music. These genres will provide you with many songs or piece to account for anyone’s music taste. And the best part of all – they are all available as YouTube and Spotify playlists!

Remember that the music you listen to for sleep must not keep you awake. Don’t be tempted to listen to popular, but distracting music. You want music that might even be considered boring in a different context. Afterall, you wouldn’t listen to a lullaby at a party or in the car. In some cases, choosing music without lyrics or in a language you cannot speak can be less distracting.

Music-assisted Relaxation (MAR) Tips:

Song length, transitions and adverts

Did you know that unexpected sounds can cause brain arousals which impact on sleep quality?

This is why listening to repetitive, familiar and simple music can be a very good method for choosing the right music for sleep. In addition, listening to long pieces of music uninterrupted by advertisements reduces the potential of transitions between songs or to an advert startling you. Another option could be listening to a concept album or artist whose music sounds all the same. You will be surprised by how much more relaxing listen to music can be without transitions between pieces or drastic musical stylistic changes! This is why listening to repetitive, familiar and simple music can be a very good method for choosing the right music for sleep. In addition, listening to long pieces of music uninterrupted by advertisements reduces the potential of transitions between songs or to an advert startling you. Another option could be listening to a concept album or artist whose music sounds all the same. You will be surprised by how much more relaxing listen to music can be without transitions between pieces or drastic musical stylistic changes! There are many minimalist, ambient music and film scores that go longer than 15 minutes. Some playlists even loop the same piece of music for extended periods just to make things easier.

Musical features which may be distracting

For musicians and music fanatics, let’s list some musical features which can be distracting. What we are avoiding here is surprising changes in the music due to their extreme and/or sudden nature (such as Haydn’s Surprise Symphony Mo. 94, 2nd Movement). For example, radical sudden changes in dynamics particularly from quiet to loud could be startling. Similarly, if a harmonic or a stylistic expectation has been set, its violation could be staggering. In general, a smooth and slow transition between musical ideas, where the ideas do not vary significantly, the less mental load required. For this reason, a variation on a musical theme (or similar) may be beneficial.

b) Choose calming music for a pleasant relaxed feeling.

Now when listening to music for when you can’t sleep, it’s imperative that the music helps you develop a calm and pleasantly relaxed state. If you are not enjoying the music, then consider another song. Similarly, if the music does not make you feel relaxed, you should try something else. I wouldn’t attempt to overthink if the song is the most relaxing song on your playlist (at the risk of developing anxiety over song choice) but instead checking in to see if you feel relaxed. In general, if you feel pleasantly relaxed then you probably are, or are on your way.

Music-assisted Relaxation (MAR) Tips:

Is the music too engrossing?

For some individuals, they haven’t had success with music as a sleep aid because they believed it to be too engrossing. Listening to music that brings up strong emotions for either personal reason or because the composer intended it could be counterproductive. Instead aim for music that you find pleasant, but you don’t “Love”. If you don’t know where to find music that doesn’t evoke strong emotions, use this app that makes relaxing music for you using AI.

Jumpstart the process with sounds you associate with relaxation

Use your personal experiences and background to your advantage. For example, if you have felt relaxed by the beach or hearing rain in a cosy cabin, then look for these sounds. If your culture has pieces of music played at sleep (such as Neelambari sleep-inducing raga) your association of this music with sleep may be beneficial. In western culture, a recent resurgence of baroque music has come forward due to its lesser dissonance when compared to contemporary classical music. Whilst this music was not intended for sleep and some of the music is harmonically dissonant, our association with this style as being “music for sleep” may aid in priming a sleep state.

C) Choose calming music to entrain your body to the right state

This concept is exciting and could possibly explain why music has been shown to be more effective than listening to relaxing audiobooks for when individuals can’t sleep. Musical entrainment is a physiological phenomenon where the rhythms in your body such as your breath rate, heart beat or brain activity syncs with the rhythmic properties of the music. You may be familiar with binaural beats or isochronic tones as a strategy for brainwave entrainment, though the research is inconclusive on the efficacy of these strategies for sleep. Other forms of entrainment, such as the synchronisation of tapping your foot to the pulse of music we have all personally experienced. Some athletes even use the rhythms of music to maintain pace when working out.

Music-assisted Relaxation (MAR) Tips:

What music should the tempo be? 

The general consensus across the music psychology literature on sedative music is that MAR should ideally be between 60-80 beats per minute (BPM). In Italian tempo marking it would be adagietto i.e. slower than at a walking pace. Knowing this makes it quite easy for non-musicians to be able to see if the music is too fast by just walking along to the beat. In general, this slower tempo is very common for relaxation music, otherwise you can use beat detecting programs or look for musical scores on the songs to check. If you can, try to avoid music when the tempo speeds up (slowing down is fine though) as this could be counter intuitive.

What about the rhythmic features?

Again, we can look back into the science, and the recommendation is music with a weak pulse without syncopation or strong rhythmic features. Strong pulse and syncopation are common in dance music and if you remember from before, we are trying to sleep not dance. This being said a clear pulse may aid in the entrainment process.

d) Choose calming music to drown out noxious noise

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a quiet sleeping environment. You may be plagued by a snoring partner, nearby traffic, arguing neighbours or their deafening television. These sounds can hinder sleep but you can hide them under the music like a curtain to block flashing light entering through your bedroom window.

Music-assisted Relaxation (MAR) Tips:

Creating a wall of sound

Going back to the bedroom window analogy, closing the curtain part way would still allow the flashing light to enter your room. Similarly, if your neighbours loud television is low pitch, trying to hide the sound behind high pitch music won’t be effective. Instead you want to be listening to wall of sound ranging from low to high frequency. For example, white noise, is every note played at the same volume at once. This is not most effective as we hear certain frequencies as louder and softer, grey noise or pink noise is often a better option for our ears.

Listen to continuous and constant sounds

When listening to our wall of sound, if it the sound is consistent, we habituate to it. No new information is provided so we eventually tune out to the sound. This is why constant sound is best. If your pink or grey noise cut out it would be distracting. Smooth looping of background masking sounds are essential to avoid distraction.

Calming Music Can't Sleep Woman App

Step 2: Using calming music in the right way

Now that you have chosen and optimized what music you will be listening to, you are ready for step 2 of MAR: using music the right way.

There are a couple instructions your must follow to get the most out of your music listening experience.

a) Prior to listening your calming music

Before you consider music when you can’t sleep, the first thing you should do is understand what is possible and what isn’t possible with music. Expectation management is very important when considering any new treatment.

Music-assisted Relaxation (MAR) Tips:

Can calming music help me?

The use of music as a sleep aid has not been tested on individuals who suffer from sleep apnoea or restless leg syndrome. It’s important to see a sleep doctor to ensure you do not have either of these conditions as they are not treated or managed used music. Music has been sued for individuals who suffer insomnia and is particularly relevant to the hyper-arousal model of insomnia. This we where music can relax and distract you from having stress thoughts which hinder sleep.

Committing to using music?

Using music as a sleep aid should be compared to dieting to lose weight. Music has been shown to be most effective when used every night for at least four weeks. You may notice an improvement in your sleep immediately or it may take a couple of weeks. In fact, most studies were unable to find a point where continual use of music stopped improving the participants sleep quality. This suggests that like a diet, the best results from music come from maintaining to a strict routine. So commit to making music a habit every night for atleast 30 days.

b) Preparing your calming music

Preparing music for sleep can be as easy as playing a song at bedtime. Things however might be more complicated for you if you share your room with someone else who doesn’t want to listen to the music or are sleeping in a noisy environment.

Music-assisted Relaxation (MAR) Tips:

What should I listen to the music through?

You have many options for which you can listen to music through and what you choose will depend on your specific circumstances. If you have speakers in your bedroom you could use these. Listen through your mobile phone speakers are another option, however, most devices have small speakers that will impact on the quality of the sound (especially in the lower frequencies). In-ear headphones can be a problem as these plug your ears and may possibly build up earwax. External headphones can be uncomfortable if you sleep on your side or toss and turn in bed. One option to consider is sleep-phones, soft fabric bands which are much more comfortable on you ears.

How loud should the music be?

Ideally you should play the music as quiet as comfortably possible. The first reason being thatthe continuous use of loud music (i.e. over 80db) can damage your hearing with extended exposure. The second reason is that quieter music is often less distracting than louder music. This being said, if you are attempting to drown an unpleasant sound such as your partner snoring you may need the volume of the music to be louder to mask it.

When should I start listening to the music?

Listening to your favourite music throughout the day can positively impact on your health and mental wellbeing which may intern improve your sleep. The best time to listen to sedative music is as you get into bed. Most of scientific research has individuals listen to music for 45 minutes at bedtime as most people can fall asleep by this time. Setting up the music to auto turn off with a from a timer can make things easier.

c) When listening to your calming music

Yes, you can just relax and listen to the music but if you want to get a little bit extra you can include exercises that draw attention to the music. I’ve included a couple of exercises in the tips below.

Music-assisted Relaxation (MAR) Tips:

Breathing exercises

As you are now aware, your bodily rhythms can sync to the rhythms or beat of the music. Give your body a helping hand by breathing in and out in sync with the music. You wouldn’t breath in & out per beat but over a couple beats and if done correctly should slow down your breathing. For example this could be [1 breath in] [2 breath in] [3 hold] [4 hold] [5 breath out] [6 breath out] [7 breath out] [8 breath out]. Your breath rate would depend on the tempo of the music, your resting breath rate and time signature of the music. Visualizing the air traveling through your body you breathe and taking deep breaths may be beneficial.

Visualization exercises

Letting your mind wander with the music can help you avoid stressful thoughts that might otherwise keep you awake. If you are listening to beach sounds, visualize a relaxing experience at the beach. What does it look/smell/sound/taste/feel like? Does the music remind you of somewhere or someone? Can you imagine you are playing the music? Can you follow the contour of the melodies? Can you create a calming story about the music? All of these visualizations allow you to focus internally instead of on external stresses.

To get the most out your sedative music listening experience there are quite a few things you do to check for, prepare and do.

Calming Music Can't Sleep Man

Step 3: Combining calming music with other sleep strategies

Do you want to potentially take your music listening experience even further? One strategy we’ve already discussed is combining relaxation techniques such as visualization and breathing exercises to amplify the effects of music. This strategy is very commonplace in sedative music researcher. A sleep strategy that is growing wide support but unrelated to music is stimulus control therapy. Are you familiar with the Pavlov’s dog experiment? At feeding time, the dogs would hear a bell (stimulus) which they would eventually associate with food. The bell would play, and the dogs would begin to salivate in preparation even if the food was not there. Stimulus control therapy for insomnia is intended to help you associate the bedroom (a stimulus) with sleep, and I’d like to suggest a twist to associate your music with sleep. Imagine if whenever you heard your sleep music playlist you fell asleep. This is considered classical condition, you are conditioned to hear the music or lie in bed and fall asleep. No study to date has combined music with stimulus control therapy and whilst music has no known side effect you would be doing this at your own risk.

a) Maintaining a consistent stimulus of calming music

If Pavlov hit a gong instead of a bell would the dogs still salivate? Unlikely, because the stimulus (gong) isn’t associated with food. What if Pavlov stopped playing the bell? The dogs might stop associating the bell with food. Maintaining consistent usage of music as a sleep aid may improve your music sleep association.

Music-assisted Relaxation (MAR) Tips:

Never sleep without music

The more regularly you use music as a sleep aid the stronger the music sleep connection. If you sleep without music, the connection becomes weaker. This may explain why music continues to become more effective with increased usage. Try to get an unbroken streak of using music every night as a sleep aid for at least a month.

Never wildly vary the music or use different audio

Is that a bell or was it a gong? Varying the audio stimulus too significantly could make the association less clear. I’d recommend listening to only one composer or music genre as you create this association. If you are seeking limitless music of the same style you can use my music.

Create a prebedtime routine

Strengthen your association of music and sleep with a prebedtime routine. Not only can having wind down time help you relax (such as a bath or reading etc), following a prebedtime routine can send a clear message that it’s time to sleep. Some athletes have a music playlist which they listen to months in advance whilst training so they can get straight into the right mental state through music on the day of the competition. Consider, “I put my phone here, turn off the light, play the music” sends a pretty clear message that it’s time to sleep.

Keep your sleep environment the same

Try sleeping in the same room every night with music in the beginning. This may strengthen your association of “room and music equals sleep”. Once you have built a strong association you may be able to remove the room out of the equation. Sleeping on an airplane or in a hotel may be easier because you associate the music with sleep.

Before closing your eyes is when to turn on the music

If Pavlov played the bell and then 2hrs later fed the dogs, they association wouldn’t be clear. The same may apply with music for you. Turning on the music should be the very last thing you do before you go to sleep. The shorter the period between playing the music and sleep the better.

If you take a sleeping pill, make sure you combine it with music

Sleeping pills can be very helpful to get you to fall asleep. They are, however, not a long-term solution as they can have side effects and lead to dependency. If you choose to use sleeping pills, pair them with music as this will strengthen the association between music and sleep.

b) Maintaining a consistent result

If Pavlov rang the bell 100 times but only fed the dogs once, this would be 99 false alarms. Ensure music has the consistent result of sleep by using it wisely and when sleep is likely to follow.

Music-assisted Relaxation (MAR) Tips:

Only go to bed if you are tired

If you aren’t tired, you’ll just be listening to music in bed wide awake. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as music can help you sleep, but it could impact on the strength of the association between music and feeling tired.

Can’t sleep? turn off the music and leave your bedroom

If you thought you were tired but were wide awake once in bed, get up. You don’t want to associate the bedroom and music with lying in bed aware. Instead get out bed, go into another room for a relaxing activity. You could do reading but I wouldn’t recommend being on your phone or watching television. When you feel tired again, go back to bed and play the music.

Never listen to the music outside of sleeping

For safety reasons you obviously don’t want to be listening to your sedative music whilst operating heavy machinery or whilst travelling. You also don’t want to listen to sedative music in any other occasion other than sleep (even for napping), as this could weaken the association with music and sleep. Therefore I can’t use my music for sleep because I associate the music with work.

Don’t do anything else in bed

There are many ways of listening to music for sleep in bed and all these devices have other functions. For example, (1) if you use your phone to play the music then don’t play games or social media before bed, (2) if you listen to music through your radio, then don’t listen to anything else in bed (3) if you have a TV in your bedroom either turn off the screen and use it only for music to sleep to or get it out of the bedroom.

Putting It All Together

Here is a cool infographic produced by us. It sums up the most important points about using calm music for when you can’t sleep.

After you have your music and have started using it in the bedroom, keep an eye on your sleep quality. You can do this in a variety of ways the most reliable being the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) or Calculating your sleep efficiency. I wouldn’t recommend measuring your sleep through your watch or mobile phone because studies have them to be completely unreliable. The target is to slowly but consistently improve your sleep quality over the next month. If you are not having the results you desire it is possible you have the wrong music and may wish to consider my music.

Measure your sleep quality in three weeks or four because that’s roughly when big improvements in you sleep will be noticeable. Don’t give up if the results of first few weeks are not turning out well. Improving your sleep takes time and music accumulates in effectivenss.

Good luck in your journey!

Here’s What To Do Next…


You’ve read to the end of this mega post (4,000+ words).

Give yourself a BIG hand!

Now it’s time to apply what you’ve learned.

The first step?

Click here to get a free summary checklist of all the Music-assisted relaxation tips in this post, and start applying them tonight.

The checklist also includes 2 bonus strategies and additional details that I didn’t have room to include in this post.

[Get the MAR Checklist]

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Can’t Sleep App Live Now

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The story of Can’t Sleep

As a composer, I’ve always had a passion for evoking and experiencing emotions through music. I trained in western classical music theory because I wanted to understand the tools a composer can use to express themselves. This lead me to film music and late romantic classical music because these styles present the height of emotional musical expression. My favourite film composers being Bernard Herrmann who composed for Alfred Hitchcock. I studied music composition at the Victorian College of the Arts and University of Melbourne in Australia specialising in film, orchestration and harmony to further understand musical expression. Something that wasn’t part of my study but really fascinated me was the psychology of music. I knew experientially that music helped me get through the day but was surprised to find research papers on the topic. Specifically what interested me was how music can be used as an everyday tool to aid people. This was the starting point that lead towards the Can’t Sleep.

After completing my undergraduate with newfound interest in music psychology and music as a utility, I was curious to see how music can help anyone. I discovered that different music can help improve workplace productivity, reduce listener stress and improve sleep. These three areas all fascinated me, specifically that something so enjoyable could be so effective. I felt however that music is a personal experience, that one piece of prescribed music couldn’t just work for everyone like medicine (and research supports this). My background in “interactive” composition drove me to investigate strategies to engage the listener beyond pressing play. To allow for this personalization I knew the music would need to be composed in realtime using generative algorithmic processes. The most impactful platform for this style of interactive and generative music is a smartphone app. This became my honours project at the Victorian College of the Arts.

My honours program was a very busy but productive year. I learnt how to code generative music on android and read through the literature on music for encouraging relaxation. I studied under evolutionary musicologist “Joseph Jordania”, the focus was first to understand how sound informed our ancestor mood and how these ancient perceptions impact the way we engage with music. For example our ancestors had to be aware of the loud, short and distorted warning calls of animals which is not so different to the attention grabbing trumpet blasts in film music. Also our unchanged physiology, such as how our hearing is more sensitive to high frequencies, which is why a piccolo flute can be heard above a very loud orchestra. The psychology of music perception answered many of my questions through potential mechanisms and theories suggesting how and why we experience compositional techniques in certain ways. For the honours assessment I presented the generative music app on android and my research into compositional strategies to encourage relaxation. I received first class honours which allowed for further study into the psychology of music.

I was accepted into the University of New South Wales to undertake a Doctor of Philosophy under the supervision of Emery Schubert, a music psychologist who has achieved a lot in the field of music and emotion. The first question I wanted to answer was how I can stop ambient music becoming boring through generative processes. More specifically “how can I make music engaging enough to avoid being boring but not too engaging that it will keep people distracted”. I looked into a couple of different theoretical models, ran a study with 120 participants and found a point where a listener would recognise that the music is changing but not be overwhelmed by variation. This finding was able to be translated into the app.

It was from this research that I really recognised how different the music would need to be for each state (focus, relaxation and sleep). Music needed to be much less engaging for sleep and for focus or relaxation, so I needed to niche. I ran in-depth market analysis and discovered how severely sleep deprived our society is and saw an opportunity to help inadequate sleepers. Unfortunately, the market was already flooded with gimmicks (e.g. Mozart for sleep or Delta wave deep sleep baroque) and then decided that to stand out in this field I would need to ensure that the app is positioned from a very scientific approach. The next step was to read through and analyse all the literature on music as a sleep aid. I found over 50 papers which used music as a sleep aid and 50 others on music psychology. I then compiled and began writing the mechanisms by which music aids sleep quality. I re-branded the app as Can’t Sleep App and implement these music psychology principles into the app with the greatest rigour possible.

Where is the app now? At the end of last year began the development of the music system for the Can’t Sleep App. Just recently we were accepted into Queensland University of Technology’s Collider Accelerator Program. As you are aware, you can download the Can’t Sleep App now!



Hack your first sleep session using “Super Mode” in Can’t Sleep App

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Can’t sleep app contains a variety of sounds, presets, modes and features. When you first try out Can’t Sleep App, we recommend you run the app as simply as possible and then increase the musical complexity when you start to find the music boring. The introduction of any new pre-sleep routine can be distracting. This guide will explain how to set up Can’t Sleep App so that it requires very low attention by limiting the musical information for your brain to process.

Summary on how to setup “Super Mode”

  1. If you have the paid subscription version, choose:
    1. 1 Instrument (we recommend vibraphone)
    2. 1 Ambience (we recommend Noise or Rain)
  2. Choose “Sleep mode” and start to play the app 5+ minutes before you go to bed
  3. Volume should be set just above the lowest volume you can hear (for example 2-5 bars).
  4. Use speakers or headphones
  5. Turn off your screen

Choosing the perfect starting instruments

If you have the paid subscription version, we recommend you choose your own “Custom” instruments. Start with only one instrument in “Orchestra” and one “Ambience”. Every time the app changes from one instrument to another (e.g. from Piano to Cello) your brain needs to process this information. By limiting the Orchestra instruments and Ambience to single sounds, we habituate to the music very quickly. We recommend you try out Vibraphone for the Orchestra instrument because it is percussive, has long sustain and is a monochromatic timbre. For the Ambience we recommend you choose Noise (grey noise) or Rain because they are easy to habituate to and cover the hearing spectrum.


Make sure you select “Sleep” because this mode has the slowest tempo, is the least active and the tempo decreases over time. One trick you can try is playing the app 5 minutes before you go to bed, the music will be much slower by the time you try to fall asleep.

Elements of the Music

Simplify the music by disable the following elements: “High Notes”, “Bass”, “Drums” and “Effects”, keeping only “Melody” and “Ambience”. This will drastically change how the music sounds. If you need the music to be more distracting or engaging, you can always add in other elements later.


This requires a little bit of balance. If the music is too loud each musical note can be distracting and if the music is too quiet you will be listening intently to hear what is going on. We recommend you set the volume to be 1-2 bars above the lowest volume you can hear. This might be between 1-5 volume bars.

Headphones and Speakers

Unfortunately, smartphones only have tiny speakers and they are designed to be in the register of a human voice. This means that many of the lower frequencies are lost. Avoid this by plugging your phone into headphones or speaker to have a better fuller and more rounded sound.

Turn off your screen

The bright light coming from you phone screen is detrimental to sleep, so turn it off.

Into the Future

Once you are familiar with Can’t Sleep App and are starting to get bored of the music it’s time to start exploring. You could choose other instruments or ambient sounds? Or you could start including other musical elements such as Bass or Effects. Another signal that it’s time to increase the complexity of the music is if you find your mind thinking of stressful thoughts instead of zoning out to the music. This will change day to day and we recommend you find out what you like and what works for you. Music is a very personal experience and we get that.

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How you think coffee works is totally wrong

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Many of us have this false belief that coffee gives you energy and have an expectation that it will wake us up. That’s not entirely how coffee works. We might perceive the experience as newfound alertness but, the reality is that caffeine is just hiding how tired we really are. It’s like a painkiller but for tiredness.

Why do we feel tired to begin with?

As we go about our normal day we release the sleep inducing molecule called adenosine. Neurons in our brain have receptors tailored to adenosine (i.e. adenosine receptors). When adenosine attaches to these receptors it makes us feel more sluggish, slows us down and makes us sleepy. It also decreases our motivation or anticipation by blocking dopamine. This process is to encourage sleep and as you sleep adenosine declines gradually promoting wakefulness.

How does caffeine work?

Caffeine has a very similar molecular structure to adenosine but does not activate adenosine receptors. It can block the receptors from adenosine but does not make us feel sluggish and allows continued uptake of dopamine. Caffeine slowly breaks down over time allowing adenosine uptake. Caffeine also stimulates adrenaline (fight or flight) for heightened alertness.

Why is this all bad?

To put it plainly, caffeine stops you from recognising how tired you really are and then on top of this creates a physiological stress response. Caffeine raises heartrate and blood pressure, is diuretic (increases urination and diarrhoea) and can contribute to insomnia and anxiety. If caffeine is blocking adenosine, your body will adapt and create more adenosine receptors. This can lead to habituation and dependency. If you stop drinking coffee, these excess receptors result in unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, tiredness and low motivation/depressed mood. Without caffeine in your system these receptors will decrease back to a regular amount.

If you wake up feeling exhausted prior to having a coffee, this is the underlying state of your body all day.

As soon as you have that morning coffee you hide how tired you really are. Going about your normal day with a coffee instead of resting is like taking a painkiller and then re-injuring yourself because you can’t feel that it hurts. Most of us do this daily.

Do I drink coffee?

Yes, but in moderation. I only drink coffee during the week and dishabituate over the weekend. I don’t drink coffee first thing in the morning. Upon waking we have low levels of adenosine receptor activation and high levels of cortisol. This is the least effective time to have coffee. Having coffee too late can impact on sleep, upto 6 hours before bed time can impact on sleep quality. Some research has suggested between 9:30am and 11:30am is ideal because that is when our cortisol has a natural dip. To make caffeine more effective I drink coffee closer to the later time.

What else can be done to stay alert instead?

You might consider a slower release of caffeine such as green tea or bullet proof coffee (coffee + fat) but the best solution is more high-quality sleep or an afternoon nap. It is important to be aware that napping can result in sleep inertia (i.e. feeling drowsy upon waking). 



How to better measure your sleep with Apple Watch.

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It seems everyone with an Apple Watch is running mini experiments to monitor their sleep quality but is the technology accurate? Is the methodology accurate?

Follow my experiment

Over the next 30 days I will be conducting an experiment on myself measuring the impact of the Can’t Sleep App on my sleep. As a 3rd year PhD student with a research topic of music & sleep, I am already aware of healthy sleep hygiene and am a good sleeper. The question is, can music improve my sleep even further? Music has shown to be effective for poor sleepers but there has not been a lot of research on normal sleepers. I hope to educate other individuals who are interested in bio-hacking to run more rigorous experiments using the technology that is available to the public.

Some of the most important elements of research are knowing the purpose of the study and the limitations. Whilst every research paper state both areas, unfortunately they are not often represented in citations or when presented to the public. To increase the accuracy of any experiment you must be aware of these.


  1. Ask your GP before performing any experiment.
  2. If you are a researcher and would like something added to this blog post please email me at

Purpose of the experiment

This experiment will measure the effect of the Can’t Sleep App on sleep for 30 days alternating music (intervention) and silence (control). Sleep will be measured using a series 3 apple watch and the sleep app “Pillow” for Deep sleep, Time to fall asleep, REM sleep, Number of Awakening and Total time sleeping. I hypothesize that music will improve each of these measures and continue to improve each measure with greater exposure. At the end of this experiment I will post the results, analysis and any findings.

Limitations and variables to be aware of

Study design limitations

A single participant experiment means minor influences (such as going to bed late one night) can greatly impact on the results. I am attempting to minimize this impact by conducting the experiment for 30 days which means more points of measurement.

I am the participant and researcher which means personal bias could impact the implementation, measurements and analysis. Being the founder of the music sleep app and studying music & sleep will unintentionally lead to bias. My experience in building the app and working with my developer will provide a different experience of the music compared to others. This means the experiment could go either way.

Technology limitations

From the research I did in the Appstore, “Pillow” provided the most variables. Whilst the gold standard for measuring sleep quality is polysomnography (think brain activity, eye movement, heartrate) in combination with participant self-report measures, these aren’t financially viable and require professionals. I do not believe that Apple Watch and Pillow are viable for accurate sleep tests but may present some indication of sleep quality. If you are interested in finding out why? Let me know at, otherwise an easy way to check accuracy of a product is to search the product in “google scholar” and read any articles. If no articles show up then it’s not accurate.


There are a lot of variables that impact on sleep, but I am going to limit them to keep the experiment more manageable. These include

  • Going to sleep before or after normal bedtime
  • Caffeine consumption
  • Headaches
  • My noisy neighbour
  • Blue light prior to sleep & screen time
  • Issues with the technology including Pillow App, iPhone or Apple Watch
  • Alcohol

Other variables might include exercise, stress/anxiety, your pet waking you up, jet lag, shift work, medication/drugs, sleeping in an unfamiliar bedroom, light shining in your bedroom, temperature, diet, having a late meal, getting sick/flu and the list goes on…

Is it even worth running experiments on yourself when it can be so inaccurate?

Adding up all the study design limitations, technology limitations and potential variables you might be thinking to yourself “I’ll just leave it to professional researchers and follow their advice”. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but I believe a lot can be gained by measuring yourself. The good news is that technology is getting more affordable, more available and more accurate. The great news is that running these experiments creates an awareness of factors that might influence your sleep, and this can shape your behaviour in positive ways. For me personally, as a research I’m really looking forward to be a test subject for once, to truly experience the other side and I hope this will give insight into my future studies.


Music Psychology

Why does pop music sound so simple and generic?

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We have teams of the best songwriters from all around the world writing chart toppers with funding from big music labels. So why is pop music so generic and simple? And why is it that when a new hit is released we hear it 100x in the first day? Find out the psychology below

A psychology theory on musical preference

Daniel Berlyne’s Inverted U theory. This theory proposes that preference for a piece of music is informed by familiarity, complexity and unusualness of the music to the listener. On the image above, the inverted-U represents our preference with two opposite ends of the spectrum. On the extreme left familiar, low complexity and generic music such as a lullaby or nursery rhyme. On the extreme right, unfamiliar, high complexity and unusual music such as avant-guard free jazz. Of course we all have different music listening habits and music skill and possibly a musician studying jazz may not find avant-guard free jazz so complex or unfamiliar. Repeated exposure to a piece of music increases familiarity and moves the preference of the music from right to left through the inverted-U.

This leads to one of three situations

  1. Highly complex, unfamiliar and unusual music becomes more preferred up to a point and then becomes less preferred
  2. Medium complexity, familiarity and unusual music decreases from preferred to less preferred.
  3. Low complex, very familiar and generic music is still not preferred.

How does this theory apply to pop music, Christmas music and progressive music?

Christmas music: low

I think we can all relate to the horrible musical experience that leads up to Christmas. The same 10 tunes repeated back to back, every year for 2 months, in every retail store near you. This brings awareness to the customer of Christmas spirit and increases sales for the store. For store managers, I would be concerned about the implications on staff’s wellbeing and if this validates increased sales. In extreme cases this could be considered noise pollution.

Pop music: medium

This is an industry, the faster and greater number of songs/albums/concerts we consume, the greater profit. What the industry wants is short, simple and generic songs that we enjoy on the first listen to engage us, and possibly for us to purchase and then for us to move on from. Radio hosts achieve this cycle by:

  1. Building hype around a “pre-determined hit single” with snippets from the singles chorus to warm up the listener
  2. Playing the single multiple times a day when the single is released
  3. Once the single is over played, beating the dead horse (for any late adopters)
  4. Moving on the next hit single.

You’ve probably heard of fast fashion, well this is fast music. A self-perpetuating cycle that is very beneficial to the music industry.

Progressive music: high

Ever had a song grow on you? The first time you might not like it, but after 10 listens you love it…and after 20 you don’t like it anymore. This is the type of music that grows you as a music listener, challenges your music taste. Symphonic and polyphonic classical pieces are great examples of this because each listen you hear something different, hidden in the complexity. It’s also a slow and initially unpleasant procedure.

Our greatest pop composers aren’t re-inventing the wheel or pushing boundaries because it would impact sales. Instead they focus minimal friction with catchy hooks and rip-offs to get listeners enjoying the music from day one.

Can we avoid the inverted U theory?

Today I listened to Thrift shop by Macklemore, it has been long enough that it’s awesome again. This is known as dishabituation, where avoidance of an overexposed stimulus (thrift shop in this case) increases in preference.

What if I had listened to an altered version of Thrift shop. For example, an unplugged or acoustic version, instrumental version, dance cover or remix, or even a free jazz interpretation. This music would be similar but not true repeated exposure, slowing the process through the inverted U theory. This concept is similar to the western classical form known as a theme and variations where each movement takes the musical themes and uses them in a different style, emotional expression or purpose.

What if the music was never the same and never repeated?

This is how Can’t Sleep App works. Ambient background music tends to be familiar, low complexity and generic compared to other styles. Listening to the same ambient music very quickly becomes repetitive and unpleasant. The Can’t Sleep App combats this habituation by composing new music in Realtime every second. Like a theme and variation, the app composes a theme and varies it. This theme however is intangible with each re-iteration of the theme becoming a new theme which is then re-iterated and so on. Exposure and familiarity cannot increase because the generative music is always changing.


Music Psychology

What is the perfect music for more productive work?

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 This is the wrong question. Instead you should be asking “what is the task at hand?”, “How much engagement is required to complete the task?” and “What music meets this level of engagement?”

Think about these two examples and how they relate to your work.

Example 1. You are driving down the street looking for a house and you need to focus. What do you do? Turn off the radio. Any music is too distracting.

Example 2. You have a long road trip ahead and you create “Road trip playlist 2” with all your favourite energetic songs. You sing along to stay engaged, energised & focused for the long drive.

These are two very relatable experiences, and this is how you should treat music when you are on the job. Different tasks have different attention requirements.

What music features require the most of our attention?

There is evidence that music with lyrics can negatively impact on reading comprehension. It would be fair to assume that lyrical music would not be beneficial to many writing or reading tasks. Again, this would depend on the reading comprehension required. For example, clearing out spam, trash or skimming through emails may still be effective under lyrical music. I would recommend against blanket statements regarding what music to use for specific tasks.

Instead consider how much attention you require to complete the task and then consider the following features of music which can distract you;

– emotionally expressive music
– loud volume
– lyrical
– strong rhythm or pulse
– dynamically expressive
– have strong personal meaning to you

How do we know if the music is too engaging or not engaging enough?

Watch your thoughts.

  • Mind wandering off or you are drifting off? – the music isn’t engaging enough for you to be focused
  • Thinking about the music instead of the task at hand? – the music is too engaging and distracting

We are all different. Some individuals with attention deficit disorder cannot focus without music and ambient music can be an effective solution. Musicians on the other hand tend to listen to music analytically and this can make any music distracting. Music can also be effective for masking out talking co-workers or unpleasant noises (see my blog on masking)

What about music for very complicated tasks?

The Can’t Sleep App has a mode for focus. This mode is ideal for very complicated tasks because you can remove parts of the music to make it less distracting. This includes disabling the melody, harmony, bass, percussion, sound effects and environment sounds included in the music. If you want sound without a decline in cognitive performance consider the Can’t Sleep App. Important: under no circumstances do I recommend using Can’t Sleep App whilst driving or operating heavy machinery.



White noise, pink noise or “….. noise” for sleep

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You’ve probably heard online that “white noise” is fantastic for sleep, maybe you did your own research and found out that “pink noise” is better, what if I told you that there is an even better “noise” that you probably haven’t heard of.

First, we need to know how noise works
I think we all have experienced the unpleasantness of listening to a broken tap. The “drip drip drip” grabs our attention. Then we anticipate the next “drip” which keeps us alert. In fact, dripping taps have been used as a form of war torture.

But what if we had 1000 dripping taps? This would sound like rain on a tin roof. Ahhh, what a pleasant relaxing sound. Many individuals listen to rain sounds to help them concentrate, relax and sleep. How is it possible that more of something unpleasant can be so appealing?

Disengaging from noise

We hear rain as a constant unchanging sound instead of 1000 individual raindrops. As the rain continues, we learn that the information is no longer important and habituate to the sound. From an evolutionary perspective, changes in our environment should demand more attention than unchanging background sounds. This is a reason why unexpected, irregular or intermittent sounds are so distracting.

Auditory masking of unpleasant sounds with broadband timbres

Broadband timbres are sounds that cover a large proportion of frequencies in our hearing spectrum. Imagine playing every single note on a piano at once excluding one single pitch, it would be very difficult to know which note is missing. Like a mask hiding one’s face, broadband timbres can mask background sounds. The sound of rain can mask the sound of a dripping tap.

This benefits sleep because sounds that might wake us up or distract us from falling asleep are hidden behind a wall of sound. One study compared silence, recordings of hospital wards and recordings of hospital wards masked by broadband timbres on sleep quality of participants. The authors of the study found that participants who listened to recordings of hospital wards had decrease sleep quality than when sleeping in silence. When the hospital recordings included broadband timbres, the impact on sleep quality and number of arousals was significantly decreased.

Why is “…” (colour) noise effective at masking unpleasant sounds

White noise is often used for masking because it covers the entire hearing spectrum at equal volume. This sound should be flat (i.e. heard evenly across all frequencies), however this is not the case because our ears are more sensitive to different frequencies. In general, we hear higher pitch sounds as louder. This is why white noise sound “hissy” and unpleasant. Pink noise accounts for this as the higher pitch frequencies are quieter, which we hear as more even sounding.

The ultimate noise for masking

To go further we must look at the Fletcher-Munson curves. These curves attempt to depict how loud a frequency must be for us to perceive it as equal volume to other pitches. The ultimate noise for masking is GREY NOISE because it is designed to have an inverse relationship with the Fletcher-Munson curve making it sound flat across all frequencies. There is no true grey noise because all our ears are different and can be impacted by age and any hearing damage. Grey noise might not be perfect but it’s close.

What about other broadband timbres?

If you prefer non-computer-generated sounds, then nature sounds could be more appropriate for you. As previously discussed rain sounds, or other environment sounds can mask noxious background sounds.

Do you want to listen to noise or environmental sounds for masking?

The Can’t Sleep App includes grey noise and nature recordings such as rain, wind, waterfall, crickets, thunder, fire and many others, but masking is only beneficial when you have unpleasant sounds to hide. The Can’t Sleep App includes music designed to help you fall asleep faster and wake up feeling fresh. The app launches on the 29th of May 2018 and if you sign up early you will get free access to the app in its entirety.