‘Weightless’ by British band Marconi Union, is, say experts, the world’s most relaxing song. So relaxing, in fact, that researchers found listening to the ambient track was as effective as taking the sedative midazolam, commonly used by surgeons to relieve a patient’s anxiety before an operation. In collaboration with sound therapists, Marconi Union was asked to compose a song track that would intentionally lower anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate.
It seems they succeeded.
A study conducted by Mindlab International found that when listening to Weightless, listeners recorded a 65% decrease in overall anxiety, while their vital signs slowed by 35% when resting. The overall effect caused many participants in the study to become notably drowsy. “I would advise against driving while listening to the song because it could be dangerous,” says Mindlab’s Dr David Lewis-Hodgson.
The rhythm to Weightless starts off at 60 beats per minute, before steadily slowing to around 50. When listening to the eight-minute track, a listener’s heart will naturally slow down to echo its beat. The track’s length, says Lyz Cooper of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, is intentional. “It takes about five minutes for this process, known as entrainment, to occur. And there is no repeating melody, which allows your brain to completely switch off because you are no longer trying to predict what is coming next.”
The findings have further encouraged researchers to study whether music can replace pre-op drugs. Feeling anxious before surgery can affect recovery because of the stress hormones released in the body. But anxiety-reducing drugs can have side-effects and need constant monitoring by doctors. Music medicine, by contrast, say researchers, is “virtually harm-free and inexpensive”. Dr Veena Graff, assistant professor of anaesthesiology and critical care from University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, told the BBC: “Music lights up the emotional area of the brain, the reward system and the pleasure pathways. It means patients can be in their own world, they can be comfortable and have full control.”