Earworms Can Invade Your Sleep Too, New Study Finds

Ever got a song playing over and over again until it got stuck in your head? We’ve all been there, and the experience could be not so pleasant.

That could happen a lot while we’re awake, and it can be pretty annoying. But how about sleep? Can a song really hunt our dreams, too?

A new study has just investigated the phenomenon of having an earworm while we sleep, and things are more complicated than previously believed.

Here is what you need to know.

Sing Me to Sleep

A team of scientists used surveys of 199 people, a sleep lab test involving 50 participants, and three popular songs: Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen, and the classic hit, Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey. 

So far, things seem pretty fun, right?

Well, what the team found is genuinely intriguing yet shocking.

Study insights

The scientists measure how listening to music before bedtime influences sleep, focusing on catching earworms, also known as “involuntary musical imagery.

Participants who regularly listened to music during the daytime reported persistent nighttime earworms. People had also said that their sleep quality decreased. And that’s not all.

“We thought that people would have earworms at bedtime when they were trying to fall asleep, but we certainly didn’t know that people would report regularly waking up from sleep with an earworm,” explains Michael Scullin, a neuroscientist from Baylor University.

Furthermore, some brain scans and the team had a better view of what really happened. For example, the scans indicated slower oscillations during sleep in the participants who said they got an earworm.

Those people experienced a phenomenon called “memory reactivation.”

How does it work?

The brain part involved, meaning the primary audio cortex, is actually connected to earworm processing when we’re awake. 

However, previous studies indicated that listening to music late at night could improve sleep quality in those with insomnia. And that’s because music can relax your body.

But, whether you listen to music late at night or early in the morning, getting an earworm is something you can’t control.

Scullin advises you to avoid listening to music right before bed to limit the chance of a song taking hold in your brains. Instead, you can try to do something else, like making a list of tasks for the next day or reading a book. 

Georgia Nica
Writing was, and still is my first passion. I love all that cool stuff about science and technology. I'll try my best to bring you the latest news every day.