Most people listen to music throughout their day and often near bedtime to wind down. But can that actually cause your sleep to suffer? When sleep researcher Michael Scullin, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, realized he was waking in the middle of the night with a song stuck in his head, he saw an opportunity to study how music — and particularly stuck songs — might affect sleep patterns.
Scullin’s recent study, published in Psychological Science, investigated the relationship between music listening and sleep, focusing on a rarely-explored mechanism: involuntary musical imagery, or “earworms,” when a song or tune replays over and over in a person’s mind. These commonly happen while awake, but Scullin found that they also can happen while trying to sleep.
“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.”