“Almost everyone thought that music improved their sleep, but we found that those who listened to more music slept worse,” said the researcher. “Our brains continue to process music even when it’s not playing, even apparently while we’re asleep. Everyone knows that listening to music makes you feel good. Teens and young adults routinely listen to music around bedtime. But if you have too much of a good thing … the more music you listen to, the more likely you are to end up with an earworm that won’t go away at bedtime. “When that happens, sleep is likely to be affected,” Scullin clarifies.
Surprisingly, the study found that certain instrumental music is more likely to produce earworms and alter sleep quality than lyrical music. “What was really surprising was that instrumental music led to poorer sleep quality; instrumental music produces about twice as many ‘earworms’ – earworms, “Scullin said.
The study involved both a survey and a laboratory experiment. The survey had 209 participants who answered a series of questions about sleep quality, music listening habits, and the frequency of these earmorms, including how often they experienced this incessant humming while trying to fall asleep, woke up in the middle of the night and immediately after waking up in the morning.
For the experiment, 50 participants were taken to Scullin’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory at Baylor, where the research team tried to induce earworms to determine how they affected sleep quality. Polysomnography, a comprehensive test and the gold standard measure for sleep, was used to record the brain waves, heart rate and breathing of the participants while they slept.
“We randomly assigned participants to listen to the original versions of those songs or the instrumental versions without lyrics of the songs. Participants answered if and when they experienced this unstoppable hum of songs. We then looked at whether that affected their nighttime sleep physiology. People who got an earworm had a harder time falling asleep, more nocturnal awakenings, and spent more time in light sleep stages. “
The results were very similar both in the survey and in the experimental study.