Earworms are also the name given by US researchers to the persistent melodies in people's heads that can disturb their sleep at night.
We have all probably experienced the feeling that a melody will not let us rest, that it is always in the back of our minds. The explanation is simple: the brain can be occupied with a musical motif for hours after we have heard it. The question is what effect this might have on sleep, especially in the light of what psychologists at the University of Sheffield have previously found: 62% of those they surveyed use music as a sleep aid.
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According to the latest US research (Baylor University, Texas), summarised in Psychological Science and elsewhere, the more you listen to music, the more likely your brain is to be processing the melodies over time, as if an "earworm" has nested in your head. And when this happens, it can have a bad effect on sleep.
The related study consisted of two parts, a survey and a laboratory experiment. 209 participants had to answer questions about their sleep quality, music listening habits and the frequency and appearance of "earworms". Those who could not get rid of a tune once a week were six times more likely to report poor sleep than those who rarely encountered earworms.
In the pilot, 50 participants listened to three catchy pop songs (Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off", Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'"). Randomly selected, half of the participants listened to instrumental versions of the pop songs without lyrics, while the others listened to the original versions. They then spent the night in a sleep lab. During sleep, they monitored their brain waves, heart rate and breathing.
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The experiment clearly confirmed that those who could not get rid of a tune had a harder time falling asleep, woke up more often during the night and spent more time in the shallow sleep stage. One of the most surprising findings was that instrumental music led to the worst sleep, with twice as many earworms experienced as music without lyrics.
These findings contradict health recommendations that recommend listening to quiet music before falling asleep. However, it cannot be argued that the brain continues to process music for hours, even when the music has long stopped playing.
The truth may lie somewhere halfway. Certainly there are people whose sleep can be helped by listening to music, but those who have any problems with sleep are being warned against it by US researchers.
Source: Zenehallgatás elalvás előtt? Nem biztos, hogy jó ötlet.
I translated this to English. I am Hungarian.