While most people turn to music as a form of relaxation, usually as a sleep inducing, going-to-bed ritual, a study shows doing so produces the opposite effect. A recent scientific survey and lab study performed by researchers at Baylor University investigated the correlation between sleep and music, with particular focus on involuntary musical imagery known as “earworms.”
Earworms usually happen when one is awake, but occurrence is also possible while sleeping. The phenomenon can be described as those instances when a tune or song gets “stuck” in a person’s mind.
Earworms Lead to Poor Sleep Quality
According to lead researcher, Michael Scullin, Ph.D. whose core specialization is the study of sleep, our brains still process music when we’re slumbering; and even if the music we are listening to has stopped playing. While it cannot be disputed that listening to good music is very enjoyable, Professor Scullin contends that a person is more likely to get an earworm during sleep time.
To many who find it difficult to catch a much needed sleep, getting an “earworm” can be most annoying.
Actually many suffer from earworms, once or twice a week and the experience often results to having poor sleep quality. Quite surprisingly, instrumental music and not the lyrical ones have the most potential to cause earworms that negatively affect sleep quality. This particular revelation clearly opposes common recommendations of listening to calming musical instruments.
How the Occurrence of Earworm Syndrome During Sleep was Proven?
The study analyzed data gathered through a laboratory experiment and from a series of surveys that involved 209 participants. The surveys included questions concerning each individual’s music listening habits, the frequency of experiencing earworms, and the quality of their sleep.
The laboratory experimental study, on the other hand, involved 50 participants, on whom the research team intentionally caused earworms by making listen to certain types of music.
To observe how the earworms affected sleep quality of the 50 participants, individual recordings of brain waves, breathing, heart rate, and etc., were documented while they were sleeping. The comprehensive test was performed using an instrument called polysomnography.
The conclusion that earworms do affect sleep negatively, was partly confirmed by participants’ responses to questionnaires. Some indicated that they normally wake up in the middle of the night, others say they have difficulty in catching asleep, while some others experience light stages of sleep for longer durations.
Professor Scullin said that the lab experiment revealed similar findings on the 50 participants. Those who experienced sleep earworm had more movement in brain activities while asleep, which is considered as a sign of memory reactivations. The gradual increase of slow back and forth movements in brain activities were found in the region associated with the primary auditory cortex. The latter is the same brain area, where earworms are processed when a person is awake.
Based on the results of the study, the Baylor University researchers recommend for people to take breaks if earworms are affecting you and the quality of your sleep. Moreover, they also mentioned the importance not listening to music before sleeping.
Lastly, one must take part in cognitive activity in order to effectively eliminate earworms, which can be achieved by completely focusing on a task that will divert the brain’s attention from the earworm.