There's A Reason Why Heavy Metal Music Puts Some People To Sleep

Last week, I went to see King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard perform in Los Angeles after missing them in Austin amid the Levitation cancellation kerfuffle. With the show scheduled at the Teragram -- one of my favorite venues downtown -- I couldn't have been more excited to see them. Even as I stood so close to the stage I could feel the double drum sets jiggling my brain, three feet away from a mosh pit and with one dude crowd surfing above me, I drifted into sleep.

Sh*t you not, I fell asleep standing up. At a speed metal concert.

To give you a sense of the high-octane situation I'm talking about, here's a really weird, pseudo-satanic music video of theirs.

Before the show, I had a light sushi dinner, went on an energizing stroll and smoked only sativas. So, what gives?!

After doing a little research, I found that falling into a trance while listening to hardcore metal or punk music is not entirely uncommon.

While heavy metal has commonly been associated with head-banging, mosh pits, motorcycles and dudes going "Rwar, I'm a tough guy," listening to "extreme music" has actually been proven to promote tranquility, not anger.

A study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience showed that instead of causing anger, heavy music helped listeners process and quiet negative emotions. According to the study's lead researchers and co-authors, Leah Sharman and Dr. Genevieve Dingle,

The music helped them explore the full gamut of emotion they felt, but also left them feeling more active and inspired. Results showed levels of hostility, irritability and stress decreased after music was introduced, and the most significant change reported was the level of inspiration they felt.

Another study has shown that intellectually gifted students turn to metal and other heavy genres to help them cope with social anxiety. After studying 1,000 of the brightest five percent of adolescents in the UK, researchers from the University of Warwick in England found that heavy metal music doesn't inspire delinquency. As psychologist Stuart Cadwallader explains, the genre has quite the opposite effect,

We are looking at a group with lower than average self-esteem that does not feel quite as well adjusted. They feel more stressed out and turn to heavy metal as a way of relieving that stress. Participants said they appreciated the complex and sometimes political themes of heavy metal music more than perhaps the average pop song. It does not indicate problems.

But it's not just angsty teens who listen to heavy metal music to calm their nerves; it's your cardigan-wearing coworker, too. In an article for the Atlantic, metalhead Leah Sottile explains her passion for the genre, writing,

I started to do this thing where at the end of a long work week, stuck in the corner cubicle of a windowless room, I'd go to this crappy club in my town that booked a lot of loud bands and stand right up next to the speakers, close enough that I could actually feel the music passing through me. It was like meditation. Something about the way the bass would actually shake my bones and internal organs was cleansing. It was in those moments, my senses overloaded, that I felt like I could take a full breath again.

This makes sense. The jarring quality of the music physically grabs you, and eventually you have to give in. In our everyday lives, we passively absorb a relentless loop of largely useless information. Listening to heavy music forces you to engage with your surroundings before ultimately turning your attention inward.

My theory for why I fell asleep in a crowd of people when normally I'd be scanning for exit plans? The one-speed pace of the melodies -- loud and fast with few respites -- has a hypnotizing quality that lulls me into a trance. One minute I'm banging my head with the rest of the fans, and the next I'm pulling up to Sleepy Town.

It's strange how imperceptible the transition from tuning in to nodding off can happen. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard specifically have that effect on me because they rarely break between songs. One rolls into the next so that you hardly notice where one riff ends and another begins. Either way, it's good to know I'm probably not an emotionless drone after all.

Citations: Finding Happiness in Angry Music (The Atlantic), Head-banging tunes can have same effect as a warm hug (The University of Queensland)