A Composer Hopes His Music Will Put You to Sleep

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Photo: DEA / A. DE GREGORIO

The entire point of Sleep, a digital album composed by British musician Max Richter, is that the eight-hour piece lulls its listeners to sleep. The classical composition includes strings, a lightly played piano, and some appropriately dreamy vocals — more oohs and ahhs than actual lyrics. Sleep will be available for purchase Friday, but it’s streaming live for free Thursday starting at 8 p.m. (that’s 8 p.m. in whatever time zone you happen to be in), should you want to call it an early night. 

Judging from the track Richter made available on YouTube earlier this month, the piece works like an audio sedative. Incidentally, the research on music and sleep does indeed show that slow, soft classical music in particular seems to help nudge people along to dreamland. One 2005 study, for example, found that when seniors with sleep problems listened to subdued classical music starting 45 minutes before they went to bed, their subjective sleep quality improved. Another recent study compared the effects of listening to classical music with listening to an audiobook while trying to fall asleep; sleep quality didn’t improve for the audiobook listeners, but it did for the music listeners. (Perhaps this means it’s time to reconsider my own habit of falling asleep to my favorite podcasts.) 

Later this fall, Richter and his ensemble will play the album in its entirety in Berlin, beginning at midnight and concluding at 8 a.m., in a sort of musical slumber party. “We basically will play in the round, so the band is in the middle, and ringed around it are four or five hundred beds,” Richter told NPR. But you can get a feel for the album here with “Dream 13,” a calming, wordless track. Fair warning: This may not be the smartest thing to listen to at your desk if you have any interest in staying awake the rest of the afternoon.