This Seemingly Innocuous Activity May Disrupt Your Sleep, Study Finds

There are a few things we know not to do before bed, like drinking coffee, scrolling through social media, or firing off emails. And according to a new study from researchers at Baylor University, you might want to add listening to music to the list.

How listening to music before bed might affect sleep.

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.

Other ways before-bed behaviors can affect sleep.

The findings of this study are surprising because music is often considered a great part of a relaxing routine— and in some cases, it can even help sleep! But this research shows that the kind of music matters: More steady, melodic tunes might be better for sleep quality and help you stay asleep throughout the night, especially if you’re someone who gets songs stuck in your head easily.

Other ways to stay in deeper stages of slow-wave sleep and REM sleep include maintaining a consistent bedtime and wake-up time and abstaining from an evening glass of wine.

Our dreams also seem to be majorly influenced by what we do—or think about—before we sleep. In fact, by setting an intention for dreaming, you may even be able to control what you dream about and use your dreams to work through a problem or consider a choice (though manipulating your dreams for that may not necessarily improve sleep quality).

If you love your before-bed playlist routine, this study doesn’t mean you have to quit it. Just take note of any songs in your mix that might cause an earworm, and see if skipping them next time makes your sleep any more restful or helps you wake up less frequently during the night.

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