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How Sona Blends Science & Music to Help You Sleep Better

If stress and anxiety are your daily uninvited companions, Sona is a must-try app.

Photo by Cosiela Borta / Unsplash

We've all been there: you're trying to sleep, and out of the blue, your anxiety pops up. Or you suddenly remember the most awkward, humiliating, or simply unpleasant moment of your life and overthink, overthink for hours.

Data shows that approximately 301 million people worldwide are affected by anxiety disorders, making them the most common mental disorders globally. In the UK, over 8 million people experience anxiety, and in the US, an estimated 31.1% of adults face it at some point in their lives, with past-year prevalence higher in females (23.4%) than males (14.3%).

What about sleep disorders? More than 50 million people in the United States have one, and over 100 million Americans report not getting an adequate amount of sleep.

Music is what might help. The therapeutic effects of music aren’t a myth. According to Positive Psychology, music therapy provides emotional support for clients and their families, offering an outlet for the expression of feelings. Apart from mental health, music enhances physical challenges, too—it facilitates movement and overall physical rehabilitation. Studies have indicated that music therapy can be effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, helping people relax and stay calm, and engaging with music activates brain regions influencing memory, emotions, movement, and decision-making.

Sona, a venture-backed therapeutics startup whose mission is to validate music as medicine uses science-backed music to improve mental health. Founded by music producer and meditation enthusiast Neal Sarin in 2019, Sona leverages the healing power of music and strives to offer people accessible and impactful resources to address anxiety, enhance sleep quality, and alleviate stress.

Kill the DJ sat down with Neal to learn more about Sona, the science behind its music, how it's created, and how the startup blends music and research to help people cope with anxiety that is already a routine.

Science behind Sona's music

Neal started meditating in 2010 and was inspired by the idea that listening to music could achieve similar benefits. While working as a music executive in New York City, he spent four years developing a music composition process designed to increase alpha brain wave activity to promote relaxation, and finalised the first compositions with 3X Grammy-winning engineer Warren Riker. In 2019, he co-founded the company with his high school friend Dennis Hauser, who was completing an MBA at UC Berkeley.

Award-winning app Sona uses "neuroscience-based music" to help listeners naturally and efficiently improve sleep and reduce stress. Such music is created and carefully curated by composers and Grammy-winning producers to increase alpha brain waves and lower stress hormones, which has been scientifically proven. Sona has conducted research in partnership with Nielsen Neuroscience to test the app's effectiveness in reducing stress, and the results showed the participants experienced increased memory activation and decreased levels of attention (which is known to reflect states of relaxation), similar to the effects of meditation.

Credit: Sona
Credit: Sona

"At Sona, our music is designed to facilitate neural entrainment, which shifts the listener’s brainwaves from an active beta (waking) to alpha (relaxed). We've conducted research with leading institutions like UC Berkeley and Nielsen Neuroscience, highlighting our music's efficacy," shares Neal Sarin, Sona's founder, on Medium.

Sona has five research advisors from leading academic institutions based in California, which include Dr. Robert T. Knight (Professor of Neuroscience at UC Berkeley and UCSF), Avgusta Shestyuk (Global Head of Science and Research at NielsenIQ), Dr. Craig Heller (Professor of Biology at Stanford), Lance Kriegsfeld (Professor of Neuroscience at UC Berkeley), and Dr. Cameron Carter (Neuroscience Chair at UC Irvine).

Over ten composers produce original music for the app, hailing from six different countries, including the US, Israel, India, China, and the UK. The music is created using a multi-step composition process, which incorporates a variety of techniques that have been shown to increase alpha and theta brain waves in listeners. The composers use Sona’s proprietary composition guidelines to create the original music.

All of Sona’s music is handcrafted by real musicians. Not AI.

"Although AI is trending, we believe music made by real people translates to the listener in a certain way that cannot be recreated with AI. Whether than can be perceived by the average listener is up for debate, but we believe human-made music is better than AI-generated music as a result," Neal shares in an email interview to Kill the DJ.

How Sona helps you reduce stress and anxiety with music

If you already want to try Sona, you should know that it's recommended to use the app before sleep or during the day in a quiet environment. Studies show that it takes around eight minutes to shift someone's emotional state with music.

"We've found that many of our customers use the app for sleep, but also during the day to combat stressful events or provide a relaxing atmosphere while working or meditating. As a result, we recommend using the app where there aren’t many distractions to achieve the best results," Neal notes.

You can test it yourself—download the app from the App Store or Google Play, launch it, answer a few questions to allow the app to choose perfect playlists for you and...relax.

The app's AI recommendations personalise music for listeners based on symptom prevalence and listening habits. Credit: Sona

"Music as Medicine" album

Beyond the app, the Sona team released a proper album called "music as medicine" that is available on major streaming platforms. The album features tracks created and curated by Sona's composers, so if you're looking for tunes to reduce stress during busy days, we suggest you add it to your Apple Music or Spotify library.

The idea was to showcase the diverse talent of our composers and give everyone a preview of the music they can expect on Sona.

"We released the 'music as medicine' album back in July 2022. The album features ten scientifically-tested songs created by our 10 carefully selected composers that produced original music for the app. The composers hail from six different countries, including the US, Israel, India, China and the UK, and include LA-based harpist Nailah Hunter, and Boston-based ambient and electronic artist cozmoe. We even submitted the album for Grammy consideration," Neal shares.