Listening to ‘earwig’ songs before bed disrupts sleep, study shows

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Many of us listen to music before bed to help unwind, but a new study suggests it can seriously jeopardize our sleep.

Experts in Texas have found that those who listen to music more before bed have persistent “earwigs” — catchy songs that stick in the mind — and sleep worse, too.

Earwigs often affect people while they are awake, but the study found that they can also occur while trying to sleep.

People who regularly experience earwigs at night — once or more times a week — are six times more likely to have poor sleep quality compared to people who rarely have earwigs, the study reveals.

The results contradict the idea that music is hypnotic and could aid sleep – in fact, the sleeping brain continues to process music for several hours after the music stops.

The study used three very catchy songs – Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.”

The study suggests you're best advised not to listen to music before going to bed, especially if you already have 'earwigs' — catchy songs that run through your head over and over again.

The study suggests you’re best advised not to listen to music before going to bed, especially if you already have ‘earwigs’ — catchy songs that run through your head over and over again.

WHAT ARE EARWORMS?

Earwigs are when a song or tune is played over and over in a person’s mind.

It can often be the main hook of the song, such as the chorus.

Earwigs can arise from both lyrical and instrumental music.

Research shows that they adversely affect sleep quality.

It was led by Michael Scullin, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, who himself had previously woken up in the middle of the night with a song in his head.

“Almost everyone thought that music improves their sleep, but we found that those who listened to more music had worse sleep,” he said.

‘Our brains continue to process music even when none is playing, even when we are apparently asleep.

Everyone knows that listening to music feels good. Adolescents and young adults regularly listen to music before going to sleep.

“But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. The more you listen to music, the more likely you are to contract an earwig that won’t go away by bedtime.

“If that happens, chances are your sleep will suffer.”

Surprisingly, the study found that some instrumental music is more likely to lead to earwigs and disrupt sleep quality than lyrical music.

This contradicts the currents that instrumental music is more soothing to aid in calm, or that lyrical music generally has more prominent hooks running around in our brains.

“What was really surprising was that instrumental music led to poorer sleep quality — instrumental music leads to about twice as many earwigs,” said Professor Scullin.

The study used three catchy songs — Taylor Swift's

The study used three catchy songs — Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” (pictured), Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin”

HOW TO AVOID EARWORMS?

Professor Scullin advises people to moderate their music listening or take an occasional break if they suffer from earwigs – and try to avoid this right before bedtime.

“If you often listen to music while you’re in bed, then you have that association where being in that context can cause an earwig even when you’re not listening to music, like when you’re trying to fall asleep,” he said.

Another way to get rid of an earwig is to engage in cognitive activity – focusing fully on a task, problem, or activity helps distract your brain from earwigs.

Instead of engaging in a demanding activity or something that would disrupt your sleep, such as watching TV or playing video games, spend five to 10 minutes before bedtime writing a to-do list and writing down thoughts.

A previous study found that taking participants five minutes to write down upcoming tasks before going to bed “let go of” those troubling thoughts about the future and lead to faster sleep.

Professor Scullin advises people to moderate their music listening or take an occasional break if they suffer from earwigs – and try to avoid this right before bedtime.

“If you often listen to music while you’re in bed, then you have that association where being in that context can cause an earwig even when you’re not listening to music, like when you’re trying to fall asleep,” he said.

The study, published in the journal psychological science, included a survey and a lab experiment.

The survey included 209 participants who completed a series of surveys on sleep quality, music listening habits and earwig frequency, including how often they experienced an earwig while trying to fall asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, and immediately after waking. in the morning .

In the experimental study, 50 participants were taken to Scullin’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory at Baylor University, where the research team attempted to induce earwigs to determine how it affected sleep quality.

Participants were equipped with polysomnography equipment — which measures brain waves, breathing, muscle tone, movements, heart activity and more — while they slept.

But before bedtime, they got to hear the three annoyingly catchy songs – “Shake It Off,” “Call Me Maybe” and “Don’t Stop Believin.”

“We randomly assigned participants to listen to the original versions of those songs or the delyrized instrumental versions of the songs,” Professor Scullin said.

‘Participants responded if and when they had an earwig. We then analyzed whether that affected their nighttime sleep physiology.

“People who got an earwig had more trouble falling asleep, woke up more often at night, and spent more time in light stages of sleep.”

The experimental study also used electroencephalography (EEG), a method of recording electrical activity in the brain that involves placing electrodes along the scalp.

The EEG measurements were quantitatively analyzed to investigate physiological markers of sleep-dependent memory consolidation.

Memory consolidation is the process of converting temporary memories into a more long-lasting form.

Participants who had a sleep earwig showed more slow oscillations during sleep, a marker of memory reactivation — where a memory is moved from an inactive to an active state.

The increase in slow oscillations was dominant over the area corresponding to the primary auditory cortex, which is involved in earwig processing when people are awake.

“We thought people would have earwigs at bedtime when they tried to fall asleep, but we certainly weren’t aware that people would report waking up with earwigs on a regular basis,” said Professor Scullin.

‘But we saw that in both the research and the experimental research.’

THE FOUR STAGES OF SLEEP

Pictured, different steps of the nighttime sleep cycle.  Most dreams take place during REM sleep (marked in red), although some can also occur in non-REM sleep

Pictured, different steps of the nighttime sleep cycle. Most dreams take place during REM sleep (marked in red), although some can also occur in non-REM sleep

Sleep is generally divided into four phases. The first three of these are known as ‘non-rapid eye movement’ or NREM sleep.

The final stage is known as rapid eye movement or REM sleep.

A typical night’s sleep goes back and forth between phases.

Phase 1: In the first five minutes or so after taking off we are not deeply asleep.

We are still aware of our surroundings, but our muscles begin to relax, the heart rate slows, and brain wave patterns, known as theta waves, become erratic but fast.

Although we are asleep during stage 1, we may wake up from it feeling like we haven’t slept at all.

After about five minutes, our bodies go to stage two.

Stage 2: This is when we fell asleep, and if we were awake you would know we were asleep. Waking up is still quite easy.

This phase is identified by short bursts of electrical activity in the brain, known as spindles, and larger waves, known as K-complexes, which indicate that the brain is still aware of what is going on around it before moving to a subconscious level. .

Heart rate and breathing are slow and muscles relax even further.

Our body temperature drops and eye movements stop.

The activity of brain waves slows down, but is characterized by short bursts of electrical activity.

Phase 3: Stage 3 non-REM sleep is the period of deep sleep we need in the morning to feel refreshed.

It occurs for extended periods during the first half of the night.

Our heart rate and breathing slow down to their lowest level during sleep and brain waves even slow down.

Our muscles are relaxed and people may find it difficult to wake us up.

The body repairs muscles and tissues, stimulates growth and development, boosts immune function and builds energy for the next day.

Hypnagogia – the transitional state between wakefulness and sleep – is associated with NREM stages one to three.

Mental manifestations during hypnagogia include lucid thoughts, lucid dreams, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis.

REM sleep: REM sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after you fall asleep.

Our eyes move quickly from side to side behind closed eyelids.

The activity of mixed-frequency brainwaves is closer to the activity observed in wakefulness.

Our breathing becomes faster and more irregular, and the heart rate and blood pressure rise to near-wake levels.

Most dreams take place during REM sleep, although some can occur in non-REM sleep as well.

Arm and leg muscles become temporarily paralyzed, preventing us from fulfilling our dreams.

As we get older, we spend less of our time in REM sleep.

Memory consolidation most likely requires both non-REM and REM sleep.

Source: US National Institutes of Health

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