For most of us, music is the gift that keeps on giving. Our favorite playlists guide us through our workdays, our workouts, our weekends. Music isn’t just entertainment, studies show there are tons of healthy benefits associated with listening to your favorite tunes.
A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Sleep Disorders and Therapy reports that starting your day with a song can help get rid of cognitive cobwebs and lead to greater alertness in the morning. In addition, the practice of “music therapy” has been shown to be an effective treatment for epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
But if you listen to your favorite catchy songs before bed, you might want to think twice. Until recently, the general consensus was that calm, relaxing music can help us relax and fall asleep faster. Surprisingly, a new study has just appeared in the journal Psychological Sciences presents compelling evidence that listening to music at night can actually interfere with a good night’s sleep.
Additionally, a particular type of music has been identified as the most likely to keep you spinning and spinning all night long. Keep reading to learn more about the research, its findings, and what it all means for you and your playlists. And for other great sleep tips, know that it’s worse to sleep on this side of your body, according to science.
We’ve all been through this before – you hear a catchy tune and in the hours, if not days, that follow, you just can’t seem to get it out of your head. Scientists call this “unintentional musical imagery”. We know them as “earworms”. These are melodies that are repeated on a neural loop. New research indicates that they can also keep us awake through the night if they occur while we are trying to sleep.
“Our brains continue to process music even when none are playing, including apparently while we are sleeping,” says associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University and study director Michael Scullin, Ph.D. . “Everyone knows that listening to music feels good. Teens and young adults regularly listen to music near bedtime. But sometimes you can have too much of the good stuff. The more you listen to. music, the more chances you have of catching an earworm that won don’t go at bedtime. When that happens, there’s a good chance your sleep will suffer. “
The study concludes that people who regularly treat earworms at night (once or more times a week) are six times more likely to report poor quality of sleep in a number of dimensions compared to people who rarely have songs in their heads.
“People who caught an earworm had more difficulty falling asleep, waking more at night and spending more time in light stages of sleep,” says Professor Scullin. but we certainly didn’t know that people would report regularly waking up from sleep with an earworm. ”And for other ways to sleep better, consider trying this simple“ fall asleep in 5 minutes ”trick that becomes viral.
The researchers even admit to being surprised to observe that instrumental music in particular – or songs without lyrics or chants – seems to favor nocturnal earworms more than other tunes. “Almost everyone thought that music improves their sleep, but we found that those who listened to more music slept less well,” says Professor Scullin. “What was really surprising was that instrumental music caused a degradation in the quality of sleep – instrumental music caused about twice as many earworms.” And for more information on sleep, see the Secret Side Effect of Having Weird Dreams, Study Finds Here.
For the study, 209 people were asked about the quality of their sleep, their music listening habits and the frequency of earworms. After that, another 50 participants were invited to enter Baylor’s sleep lab, where the researchers did their best to “create” earworms in the minds of the volunteers before monitoring the quality of sleep. Sleep was assessed by polysomnography, which keeps track of brain waves, heart rate, breathing, etc.
“Before bedtime, we played three popular and catchy songs: ‘Shake It Off’ by Taylor Swift, ‘Call Me Maybe’ by Carly Rae Jepsen and ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey,” says the teacher. Scullin. “We randomly assigned participants to listen to the original versions of these songs or the non-lyric instrumental versions of the songs. Participants responded if they had suffered from an earworm and when. analyzed if this had an impact on their nocturnal sleep physiology. The earworm had more difficulty falling asleep, more nocturnal awakenings and spent more time in phases of light sleep. “
These findings challenge the widely held belief that music acts as a hypnotic that slowly rocks us to sleep. When additional EEG readings (electrical activity) from participants’ brains while they slept were analyzed, people with an earworm showed clear neural signs of memory reactivation. In other words, these recordings objectively indicate that even during sleep, the brain continues to process music hours after hearing it.
Now, none of that means you have to throw your headphones away completely. But if you’ve been having trouble sleeping lately, consider avoiding music in the hours before bed, especially super-catchy pop music.
“If you often listen to music while in bed, then you will have this association where being in this context could trigger an earworm even when you are not listening to music, such as when you are trying to fall asleep,” concludes Professor Scullin. And for some great ways to sleep better right now, check out The Secret Sleep Tip That Can Change Your Life.