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Nervous about surgery? Soft music could be the new sedative © Getty Images

Nervous about surgery? Soft music could be the new sedative

Published: 28th July, 2019 at 08:00
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Gentle music could replace intravenous sedatives to relax anxious patients.

Relaxing music can be as effective as a sedative in calming the nerves of those awaiting surgery, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have found.


For patients about to undergo orthopaedic procedures such as keyhole surgery, high levels of anxiety before anaesthesia can lead to more pain post-op and a longer recovery time. While currently used sedatives do reduce anxiety, they also come with side-effects including problems with breathing and increased hostility.

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In the study, researchers tested patients’ levels of anxiety before and after listening to the song Weightlessness by Marconi Union through noise-cancelling headphones. The track was created in 2011 in collaboration with sound therapists, and was specifically designed to lull listeners into a relaxed, trance-like state.

They tested the patients’ anxiety levels again after they were given an anaesthetic and compared the results with patients who received the standard medication – a sedative, given intravenously. They found that patients experienced the same drop in anxiety levels.

“Our findings show that there are drug-free alternatives to help calm a patient before certain procedures,” said Dr Veena Graff, lead author on the study. Previous research has shown music ‘medicine’ has been as effective as oral sedatives, this study is the first to show its potential in replacing an intravenous drug.

However, patients who listened to the music reported lower satisfaction levels that those who were given the sedatives. This could be due to communication difficulties between the patient and the physician while they were wearing the headphones, or down to the restriction in music choice itself, the researchers suggest.


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Amy BarrettEditorial Assistant, BBC Science Focus

Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus. Her BA degree specialised in science publishing and she has been working as a journalist since graduating in 2018. In 2020, Amy was named Editorial Assistant of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. She looks after all things books, culture and media. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.


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