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Got A Song Stuck In Your Head? Try These Tricks

Got A Song Stuck In Your Head? Try These Tricks

Are you unable to “shake off” that popular Taylor Swift song? Or did your co-worker hum a few bars of Baby Shark and now it’s playing over and over in your head? Then you’ve almost certainly had an earworm. But don’t worry, it’s not a creepy-crawly that lives in your ear. They’re those catchy (and often annoying) tunes that get stuck in your head, without warning.

You might have heard them called by other names – brain worms, stuck song syndrome, cognitive itch, or as the scientific community calls it, involuntary musical imagery, or INMI. An overwhelming 98% of people experience earworms, and 90% of people experience at least one earworm per week.

So why does this happen? And how do you make it stop?!

Sure, it’s all fun and games until that song stays in your head for weeks.

Why Do We Get Earworms?

Over the last decade, the scientific community has put a lot of time and effort into the study of earworms. Many experts believe that these stuck songs hold the key to new learning or memorization techniques. If you’re looking for a cause, it could be almost anything – listening to a favorite song, a childhood memory, or even things like boredom.

Certain things do seem to make earworms more likely, however. If a song is easy to sing or hum, a.k.a “a catchy tune,” it’s more likely to get “caught” in your head. Likewise, if you’ve read the lyrics to a song or heard a song over and over, there’s a high chance that it’ll turn into an earworm. Dr. Vicky Williamson, from Goldsmiths, University of London, noted that during Michael Jackson’s trial, many people reported having his songs stuck in their heads.

Wandering minds and stress seem to make people more vulnerable to earworms, and according to James Kellaris from the University of Cincinnati, women are more likely to get earworms than men. Musicians are even more likely to suffer from earworms because they spend a large portion of their time repeating songs as they practice. And, if you’re a chronic worrier, you’re not only more likely to have an internal soundtrack, but you’re also more likely to be bothered by it.

“Deworming” Your Ears

Research from the Western Washington University suggests earworms most often get stuck in your working memory while you’re doing something that doesn’t require your full attention, like walking or doing the dishes. Therefore, the best way to rid yourself of an earworm is to use your working memory for something else. Psychologists suggest solving anagrams because challenges involving words seem to work best. However, anything that taxes your working memory (like a number puzzle or a good book) might work.

This strategy comes with a caveat, however: Your mental workout needs to be hard enough to provide you with a challenge, but it can’t be too hard, otherwise you’ll quickly lose focus on the task and the earworm will return.

 

If you don’t have a puzzle or a good book handy, here are some other strategies that might work:

  • Try an “eraser song.” If you know of a song that might get rid of an earworm, try singing or humming it – but be careful because if you focus too hard, your eraser song might turn into a new earworm!
  • Figure out why the song is stuck in your head. If the song is associated with something that you aren’t actively thinking about – like a childhood memory or something you read in the newspaper – you may be able to get rid of it by learning what is causing you to remember the song.
  • Chew gum! British researchers recently found a potential link between the parts of your brain that remember speech and music and the parts that produce it. They say that it is much harder to remember words or songs while you’re chewing.

If those strategies aren’t enough, then this next one is sure to work! Some researchers believe that earworms happen because of the Zeigarnik Effect, which causes your brain to dwell on an incomplete thought or process. Given that most earworms are short 15 to 30-second snippets of a song that repeats over and over, you might be able to break the cycle simply by satisfying your brain’s desire to hear the entire song.

Some songs become earworms more often than others do, but earworms are contagious, so we won’t list those catchy tunes here. If you know of a few sticky songs (or some ways to get rid of them) let us know in the comments section!

Our apologies in advance. Take a listen:

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  • Laurence says:

    Even instrumental tunes can keep me from falling asleep. So I put on a CD of Gregorian chant. Without recognizable lyrics or melody, I fall asleep, even if the worm is still with me the next morning.

  • Corinne says:

    My latest: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-Ji0MyT2OQ&list=OLAK5uy_mlkkWTB0Yj3KK6K9pwg0n7YYBn17hUIRo&index=26 I wake up with it. When an earworm gets too bothersome, I have an old earworm hymn I begin to think of which usually usurps the latest annoyance.

  • AMJ says:

    I say some prayers and really concentrate hard on the words especially when I’m trying to sleep- helps a lot. I also say my times tables. The 8’s are the hardest – I need to concentrate and it’s distracting from the stupid song in my head. The key for me is forcing my brain to concentrate on something else…

  • Sally says:

    This is so annoying. Many times I need to stay in the living room to sleep as I don’t have a TV in the bedroom. I’ll also repeat the Lord’s prayer or the serenity prayer. Also I go through the alphabet and list 5 names for each letter…..man and women.I hate it, I wonder if a psychologist would help. 🤔

  • Jackie Harter says:

    My problem is that the songs keep me awake at night. I have insomnia and wake up often through the night, and a song I listened to early in the day (or even the day before) will start running through my mind and I can’t shut it off. I do not take stimulants and have no more than 2 cups of tea early in the morning, no caffeine after 9:00 am.

  • LadyMystica says:

    I sing in a choir, and I tend to get earworms when we are rehearsing for a big choir event (i.e. a holiday). Usually it’s one of the pieces that are in the program and that I think is uniquely beautiful. It usually goes away when I play my meditation music before bed.

  • zapper45701 says:

    Sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself a couple of times. Concentrate on the words. It won’t remain in your head after your finished because we are used to it being only sung one or two times for an occasion. It really does work. Every time the earworm tries to reappear, sing Happy Birthday again.

  • Amber says:

    I was told a long time ago that if you want to get rid of an earworm, you just hummed the theme song to Hawaii Five O. I have found that it works for me.

  • Judith says:

    It’s baseball season, so “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” plays through my head every night while I’m trying to fall asleep. 🙁

  • Julie Humphreys says:

    ‘The Entertainer’ and ‘Turkey in the Straw’. Silly ice cream truck. I hear it in my head for days.

  • Peggy says:

    I can’t take it! That lousy Geico commercial, (which I find funny) the guy at work in the bland looking kitchen standing by the microwave waiting patiently for his Burrito to be done…12 seconds left and a song (I never even heard of before!) “It’s the Final Countdown”! Damn…over and over all day long when I am doing mindless household chores or raking leaves…etc and needless to say anytime I warm up anything at all in the microwave! Must be 50 times a day! I tried to “allow myself” to sing it all I want without concern…(I think just having it concern me so much makes it happen all the more) but nothing is working! Damn that commercial….whoever thought it up did some mighty effective advertising there, give that man/woman a raise I suppose…meanwhile I’m a heartbeat away from the nut house over it !

  • swete_1 says:

    I have NEVER cared for taylor swifts music but, shhhh, dont tell anyone, i sing “shake it off ” in my head ALL THE TIME and ur mention of it at the beginning of this article just fired up the old player in my head again! Thanks a lot! LOL

  • Skill says:

    Ewwwwwwww

  • J Roberts says:

    Really

  • J Roberts says:

    Earworms? Interesting terminology. I have had songs in my head since a child in the early 70s. I used to listen to the radio every night an sing my self to sleep. An wake up singin. Now that I think about it..I started singing a TV commercial jingle as a toddler about Juicy Fruit Gum. As mentioned, things can tigger a song to play over an over on my head. I just get it on YouTube an listen to it an it goes away. For a minute until the next song. I absolutely hate it when I am sick an have that happen. Its horrible to me. I guess I must be infested with earworms..or am I nutty? Hehe

  • Ken O'Brien says:

    “It’s A Small World After All”

    sorry if I set anyone off.

  • Sunshine says:

    I love it when I wake up in the morning and I have a contemporary Christian song playing in my head. I say it’s the Holy Spirit praising God while I’ve been sleeping.
    It just starts my day off Great!

  • dr fish says:

    I get rid of mine by Ingesting Medical Cannabis-Y’all should too as this works the BEST! Ishould know, I’m a Doctor!

  • Roberta Pigg says:

    I have had this problem for years, and it has been awful since I’ve incurred the problem of daily chronic migraines. One day I had enough! so it came to my mind to say and repeat the word happiness over and over for several seconds. Sometimes I need to repeat it, but the broken record goes away and I have my mind to myself again. Yay!

  • Debby says:

    My old ear worm was Rob Zombie’s “Dragula”, but it stopped after I downloaded it & listened to it regularly. Now, I frequently wake up in the middle of the night with some innocuous pop song stuck in my head usually something I don’t even like. White noise seems to help me fall back asleep especially rain sounds.

  • Becky says:

    We call them brain songs.

  • Mary Langer says:

    This most often happens when I am trying to go to sleep. Best thing I have found is using the alphabet A-Z and picking a subject like ‘fruits’ and then trying to list fruits in alphabetical order: A-Apple, B-Banana, C-Cherry etc then go to animals: A-Ape, B-Bear etc pretty soon I’m asleep or have lost the worm.

  • Anna says:

    My earworm started after a skull fracture. I started writing down the names of the songs and the list is amazing. Worst song is Angel Eyes by the Jeff Healey Band, the best…well, anything other than that song lol.

  • Rita says:

    Sadly, my “earworms” have caused me to give up listening to any music especially while driving.

  • Debra Johnson says:

    The Addams Family theme song will go on for days or No Mild Today by Herman’s Hermits.

  • Peggy says:

    It has recently gotten a lot worse! All these commercials that have short snippets from songs drive me crazy!!! Watching a college football game last weekend I heard one of the songs they play after a touchdown. Later that night I had the new Ford commercial snippet song in my head and instantly thought of the touchdown. I played the song in my head twice and haven’t heard had the problem since. Every once in a while I use the touchdown song to clear my mind and I’m doing great now.

  • Susan Higgins says:

    Once, a colleague simply held the note, “Ahhhhhhh” and I had The Mr. Ed theme song stuck in my head for a month.

  • Bev B. says:

    I sing Joe Cocker’s “You are so beautiful to me.” The tempo is slow and reminds me of happier times.

  • Pamela says:

    I have earworms every day all day long. Even when I wake in the middle of the night. Drives me crazy. Want it to stop.

  • Mattie says:

    This is why I listen to classical music instead of everything else. No lyrics, no earworm, and if one does get stuck, I never mind cos it’s classical.

  • Jeff says:

    Mine usually come up at night when I’m sleeping or trying to get to sleep. I usually try thinking of another tune, but then that becomes the earworm. I thought to try a song I really hate, but found that even a commercial jiggle on the radio that is annoying can easily become the earworm…. no help here.

  • D says:

    we always called them “song bombs” and we would intentionally hum a
    sticky tune to infect the person next to us. My husband and I do it to each other all the time, its particularly fun to hum a Disney tune and watch it go.

  • Katrina says:

    I have one severely annoying co-worker that always walks by my desk and sings snippets of common earworms…. like the theme from Gilligan’s Island… :-/ How do I get rid of THAT?

  • Amber Kanuckel says:

    I’ve not heard the term “tuneitis” before, but I think it’s my new favorite word for this!

  • Helen says:

    Winnie the Pooh!

  • Robert says:

    I have never called the affliction “having an ear worm”, but usually say I have “Tuneitis.”

  • Tom Noone says:

    surf bird by the trashmen…bbbbb bird bird bird birds the word….

  • Ellen Campbell says:

    I usually don’t mind having a song stuck in my mind, but sometimes it’s a really strange one for which I know only one line (“What do you do with a drunken sailor early in the morning?”) or one I knew a long time ago and can’t figure out why it comes to mind. I can sing the entire ditty for Lustre Crème shampoo which aired way back in the 1940’s. And just a few days ago, for no perceivable reason, I started singing “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?”

  • Jeannette says:

    I didn’t know they had a name, “earworms.” When I get an earworm, I try to find out the exact lyrics and/or story behind the lyrics and see if there is a connection between the words and what is going on in my life. Sometimes there is a correlation and then I am able to move on without the “earworm.” It is worth a try.

  • Trish says:

    Yellow Submarine by the Beatles is my most detested earworm. Just mentioning it
    gets it started.

  • Krista says:

    Sorry but I disagree. I don’t have any caffeine in my system nor do I take medication and I get earworms.

  • Dale Hoover says:

    ‘Earworms’ are caused by the brain being overstimulated by caffeine consumption, &/or other stimulants (some medications, etc.).

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