Is the Bedtime Music Affecting Your Sleep?

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Researchers investigate link between music listening habits at bedtime and sleep quality. Credit: Robert Rogers/Baylor University

According to researchers, listening to music at bedtime increase the chances of experiencing earworms and having disrupted sleep.

Are you someone who relies heavily on music? Whether it’s to lift your mood, calm your nerves, or maybe even concentrate? It looks like all that music, especially during bedtime, might be doing more harm than good. According to researchers at Baylor University, listening to music at bedtime can affect one’s sleep quality.

The team of researchers, led by Professor Michael Scullin, focused their research on music listening and ‘earworms’. No, not literal worms in the ear. Instead, earworms is the name given to involuntary musical imagery. This phenomenon is characterized by a piece of music continuously replaying in one’s head despite no actual music playing.

Our brains continue to process music even when none is playing, including apparently while we are asleep…. 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.

Professor Michael Scullin, lead researcher

The American Psychological Association states that songs with a fast-paced tempo and easy-to-remember melody are most likely to become earworms. Their study found a list of nine frequently named earworms. Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”, and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” featured among that list.

Time to Shake it Off

Researchers at Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory at Baylor University recruited 50 participants for their experimental study and around 200 for their survey. The survey included questionnaires on sleep quality, earworm frequency, when they experienced the earworm, and participants’ music listening habit. Results revealed worse sleep quality in those who experienced frequent earworms at night.

In the experimental study, researchers randomly allocated the 50 participants to two groups. One group listened to the original version of the songs, and the other group was played the instrumental version. Polysomnography helped assess participants’ sleep quality. Additionally, the study participants reported when and whether they experienced the earworm.

Before bedtime, we played three popular and catchy songs—Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off,’ Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe” and Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’

Professor Michael Scullin, lead researcher

According to the results published in the journal Psychological Science, instrumental versions increased the incidence of nighttime earworms and worsened their sleep quality. Furthermore, in both the studies researchers noted participants reported earworms during awakenings.

An additional third study looked at EEG readings of the participants and examined their sleep-dependent memory consolidation. People with earworms had an increase in slow oscillations during sleep. Thus, revealing that some piece of music can cause reactivation of memory and result in long-lasting earworms.

Professor Scullin suggests that people with disrupted sleep avoid listening to music at bedtime. To cure an earworm, they should take part in tasks that distract the brain, such as writing out a to-do list, solving a problem, or any other cognitive activity.

Reference:

Scullin MK, Gao C, Fillmore P. Bedtime Music, Involuntary Musical Imagery, and Sleep. Psychological Science. June 2021. doi:10.1177/0956797621989724

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