A study at Great Ormond Street Hospital suggests lullabies do more than just help babies sleep – they reduce pain in sick children
Parents should sing to their children when they hurt themselves as lullabies help to reduce their pain, a study has found.
Singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Hushabye Baby and Five Little Ducks to sick children was found to alleviate their suffering by researchers at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital.
They sang the songs to a group of children under three, some of whom were waiting for heart transplants, and monitored their heart rates and pain perception.
The scientists then compared this with two other groups, one in which the children had been read to and the other where they had been left alone, and found only those who had been sung to showed a reduction in pain or heart rate.
Professor David Hargreaves of Roehampton University, one of the study’s authors, said the results went further than many parents' intuitive sense that singing lullabies calms children.
"It shows that children can be affected physiologically by music," he said.
He underlined that the research was still in the early stages, but added: "The practical applications are fairly obvious. Music therapists are going to be a lot cheaper than drugs to numb pain."
Professor Tim Griffiths, a consultant neurologist with the Wellcome Trust, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “There’s an ancient part of the brain in the limbic system which is responsible for the emotional responses to music.
"What I think is happening here is that the emotional part of the brain is being stimulated by music, more so than the reading stimulus," he said of the study at the London children’s hospital.
“This is decreasing the arousal level, and that in turn is affecting their pain response levels.”
The songs researchers used to reduce pain:
- Hush Little Baby
- Hushabye Baby
- See Saw Margery Daw
- Donkey Riding
- Little Fish
- Twinkle Twinkle
- Five Little Ducks