Beware of earworms: Listening to catchy music before bedtime may keep you up at night

C C Offline

INTRO: Michael Scullin kept waking in the middle of the night a song stuck in his head. This nuisance caused him to sleep terribly as no matter how much he tried, the earworm was still burrowing through his brain. But at least something good came out of this ordeal.

Inspired by this experience, Scullin, who is an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, set out to investigate if there was any relationship between listening to music and sleep quality.

Previously, a survey by psychologists from the University of Sheffield found that many people use music as a sort of sleeping aid. The respondents claimed that listening to music close to or during bedtime helps them sleep better because it blocks external stimuli, induces a mental state conducive to sleep, offers unique properties that stimulate sleep, or simply because it’s become a habit. Overall, 62% of the 651 respondents confirmed that they play music to help themselves sleep.

However, Scullin’s research focuses on a rarely-explored phenomenon related to music known as involuntary musical imagery, or “earworms”. These mental patterns override our normal train of thought, which is replaced with a song or tune that is replayed in one’s mind over and over again. Apparently, Scullin isn’t alone. Many people who have earworms stuck in their heads report trouble sleeping.

“Our brains continue to process music even when none is playing, including apparently while we are asleep,” Scullin said. “Everyone knows that music listening feels good. Adolescents and young adults routinely listen to music near bedtime. But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. The more you listen to music, the more likely you are to catch an earworm that won’t go away at bedtime. When that happens, chances are your sleep is going to suffer.”

The research consisted of two parts: a survey and a laboratory experiment. During the survey, 209 participants had to answer questions pertaining to sleep quality, music listening habits, and earworm frequency, as well as how often they reported experiencing an earworm while trying to fall asleep, during the middle of the night, or immediately upon waking in the morning.

People who experience one more earworm per week at night were six times more likely to report poor sleep quality compared to those who rarely experienced earworms... (MORE - details)
Magical Realist Offline
The voices in my head won't allow me to play songs in my brain when I go to bed. They demand my full attention, which I'm eventually released from in the freedom of sleep.

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