The research, published in Psychological Science, focused on one particular type of music: earworms, or those songs and riffs that seem to lodge themselves into our minds and can be difficult to budge. While you might think that the songs stuck in our heads just drift away once we fall asleep, it appears that’s not the case.
“Our brains continue to process music even when none is playing, including apparently while we are asleep,” researcher Michael Scullin, Ph.D., said in a statement on the study. “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.”
According to the research, which included 50 participants, people who deal with “earworms” more regularly at night (which was considered more than once a week) were six times more likely to experience poor sleep.
“Before bedtime, we played three popular and catchy songs: Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off,’ Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ and Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’,” explained Scullin. “Participants responded whether and when they experienced an earworm. Then we analyzed whether that impacted their nighttime sleep physiology.”
Sleep quality was measured by polysomnography, which tracks brain waves, heart rate, breathing, and other biomarkers of sleep. The team found that those who did report an earworm had more trouble falling asleep, woke up more often during the night, and spent more time in light sleep stages.