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Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Songs in my head all night
I frequently have a song going round my brain all night and when i awake it is the first thing i think of. It is most often not related to anything i have heard during the day. it is most frustrating. does it mean i am not getting sleep while this tune is going on in my head.
The phenomenon you are describing is known as "ear worms". Songs that cause ear worms usually have repetitive components, and are musically simplistic. People get stuck on songs with lyrics mostly, less so on jingles or ads, and least of the time on instrumental tunes. Having songs "stuck in your head" happens to nearly all of us. In a study by James Kellaris of the University of Cincinnati 99% of respondents to questions related to ear worms said they have experienced the phenomenon. Half of sufferers have it happen to them frequently.
You may find it interesting that almost 40% of the general population complain of at least one symptom of sleep disturbance. No one has reported an association between sleep disturbance and ear worms, but I doubt that any one has looked into this issue.
Brain activity during sleep (except dream-sleep) is slower than during wakefulness. This makes it more likely that during sleep you stop repeating the song over and over, and may just remember it again upon waking up, therefore it may seem to you that the song has been "playing" the whole time. But if you believe that your sleep is generally disturbed, then other reasons for sleep disturbance should be investigated.
If you find it difficult to fall asleep and to remain asleep, then a third of Americans share your concern at one point during their lifetime. Fortunately, the majority of cases are short-term and resolve within weeks.
Causes of insomnia include:
- A poor sleep environment (i.e. the bedroom is too noisy, too bright or too warm)
- Learned poor sleep habits (i.e. watching TV to fall asleep)
- Excessive use of stimulants (medications, caffeine, nicotine)
- Stress, anxiety, and some psychiatric conditions (i.e. depression, bipolar disorder)
- Pain and heartburn
- Medical conditions that may make it difficult to breath well when lying down
- Restless legs (an irresistible need to move the legs when awake at night)
- Desynchronized biologic rhythms relative to day and night sequence
Investigating causes of disturbed sleep would begin with a visit to a primary care physician, but may require the help of a Sleep Specialist to determine if any testing is needed or if a treatment strategy can be initiated.
Respondents to questions about ear worms in the study above reported strategies they use to try and rid themselves of stuck tunes. Individual responses ranged from direct approaches like trying to complete the tune, "trying to get busy doing something else" or "reading out loud" to acts of humorous desperation, such as "trying to give the 'tune kooties' to someone else, like (playing) tag, you're it!"
Some simple strategies you may consider to improve your sleep before discussing your problem with your doctor include the following:
- Try writing down a "worry list" 2 hours before bedtime. This should include things you need to do the next day and serve to "free your mind" of the days troubles
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine that does not involve listening to music. A warm bath 1-2 hours before bedtime or some light reading may be useful
- Consider trying a "white noise" machine to provide some background sound that is not musical
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol 6 hours before bedtime
- Daily exercise, particularly earlier in the daytime, may help you rest better at night
If you would like additional information regarding sleep and sleep disorders, you can obtain it on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website.
Dennis Auckley, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University