What is the effect of music on sleeping, studying?


Dear Dr. Roach: For teens, does wearing headphones with music playing while sleeping affect the quality of their sleep? Also, does listening to music while studying impact the quality of studying? — S.W.

Answer: The effect of music on sleep has been studied several times, but most studies have looked at classical or soothing music. In most of the trials I read, music at bedtime improved the quality and duration of sleep. If your teens are anything like my teens were, however, classical or soft music is unlikely to be their choice. Also, the trials did not examine the effect of headphones, which may alter the different head positions people use when falling asleep.

As far as the studying question goes, there clearly are differences among people. However, in several studies that included school-aged children, adolescents and young adults, studying in silence led to better reading comprehension compared with a noisy room, highly arousing music (such as heavy metal) or less arousing music (pop vocal music). However, those listening to “low arousal” music had better scores than those listening to noise. People listening to highly arousing music scored worst in reading comprehension and reaction time.

Many people feel they study best with music. Some researchers have found that music that is well-known and doesn’t demand much attention is least likely to interfere with learning.

Dear Dr. Roach: In giving good advice about drinking alcohol, you never mention it causing damaged brain cells. A neurologist once told me that a brain scan of an alcoholic patient showed the ravages of alcohol. He granted that even much less drinking would cause some damage. When I asked him about the two martinis he had routinely before dinner, he shrugged. He died at 73, probably due to his genes. I wouldn’t try to connect alcohol to cause of death, only the sharpness of one’s brain till the end. — B.W.

Answer: A very recent study just looked at the effect of moderate drinking on brain outcomes. They looked at changes on the brain scans in specific areas of the brain. They found that drinking even moderate amounts — eight standard drinks per week — increased the likelihood of brain atrophy (in the U.S., a “standard drink” is 14 grams of alcohol, about what is in 12 ounces of most beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or a standard “shot” of distilled spirits). People who drank less alcohol had a nonsignificant amount of atrophy (but did not have any degree of protection). The study had flaws, relying on self-reporting, and had a relatively small sample group; however, the results certainly are plausible.


Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or request an order form of available health newsletters at 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. Health newsletters may be ordered from www.rbmamall.com.