Got A Song Stuck In Your Head? Try These Tricks
Did a co-worker start humming "Baby Shark" and now it's stuck in your head? Then you’ve almost certainly had an earworm. We explain the science behind why it happens and what you can do to "deworm!"
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?!
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:
Amber Kanuckel is a freelance writer from rural Ohio who loves all things outdoors. She specializes in home, garden, environmental, and green living topics.
My dog passed away a couple of days ago and its broken my heart
I have a song in my head that i have never had before its cold play hhmm for the weekend. I do suffer with chronic anxiety and PTSD so it may be something i have had for a while but never noticed until i lost my dog?
It goes away when im at work or chatting to someone, but when im relaxed or its quite it comes back. Its actually giving me more anxiety in which i do not need
We are sorry about the loss of your dog. We hope you find peace (and quiet!) soon!
Here’s an ear worm: The Oscar Bologna song
6 months ago it was anything from En Canto (especially We Don’t Talk About Bruno). Now, it’s the Victoria’s Secret song by Jax. killing me all night.
I once had “White Wing Dove” by Stevie Nicks stuck in my head for 2 months!!! Every single day ALL day long for 2 months!!! Another song that was in my head for a few weeks was “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel
Omg. Geraldine by Miranda lambert is stuck in my head on repeat and I literally am going insane. Lol. It’s been there for over a week. Tiktok causes me to have constant earworms due to the short songs they play. Ugh.
Every. “Aqua.” Song. Ever.
Recently I saw a music clip of a sea shanty, and the catchy chorus has now been stuck in my head & waking me at around 01:00 am. I often get earworms but what’s interesting is that the ones that recur during waking hours are often an indication of my state of mind. For example, I was stuck in a job I hated and after a while I noticed I kept singing the same line from We Gotta Get Out Of This Place by The Animals under my breath. Whereas the earworms that wake me might be advertising jingles or pop tunes, & totally random stuff.
One time, I went to bed at 8:30 and fell asleep at 11:00 only bc of earworm
I have earworms 24/7. When I don’t listen to a song, I can hear a song deep inside my head.
I am so glad I am not alone, I thought I was going mad. I started researching and came across “earworm” this earworm is very annoying it just keeps on going on and on all through the night. All yesterday night I couldn’t sleep it was Celine Dion in my head. I am just fed up makes me very depressed and angry ?
I need to know, is it ‘it’s all coming back to me now’…? I’ve had that song stuck in my head for 5 days and all I can hear is that line “BABY BABY WHEN YOU KISS ME LIKE THIS” it’s driving me insane ?
I been getting earworms for months and they keep me from getting back to sleep. It’s annoying, irritating, and frustrating. I know what started them was I used songs to replace fear that was keeping me from sleeping. So I don’t have that fear but now I get songs and they are different songs each night. I feel like getting my phone out to find a song at 2 or 3 in the morning is not productive to helping me fall back asleep that will keep me up and make me sing more. I just want to fall back asleep peacefully like I once did. ?????
Rebecca, try one of those soothing apps like Calm. They can help “reset” your brain for bedtime!
Dear fellow earworm sufferer, I am having the same problem, songs are there as soon as I wake up and I can’t go back to sleep
I get earworms 24/7
I have a very annoying earworm that never stop, how I can permanently rid them, I want a long period of time with no earworms pls or I will sob!
I’ve just started getting these earworms…. Very very annoying, Glad to see I’m not alone. I’ve been stressing thinking I’m going crazy… .I just want it to go away !!! I hear them all-day at night and in the morning as soon as I wake up…
I have had a tune stuck in my head for a couple of months that I can’t identify because I have never heard it before ever, and don’t know why!!
Frank, Mine started about 2 months ago and it’s a song I never heard . At times it fades away but back . I getting nervous in thinking it’s something bad happening in my brain.
My started with the lockdown but it’s got worse even though we are out of lockdown. I have anxiety & insomnia from the ear worm. Is their something wrong with my brain
No, when your brain is “idle” you’ll find you get songs stuck in your head more often. Try keeping busy with tasks that require brain power: crosswords, etc.
I’ve had Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home“ stuck in my head for about 4 days now. I’ve listened to it in full, several times hoping that will get rid of it… but to no avail. I’ve also tried listening to the MOST annoying songs possible to get it to go away and that doesn’t work either. I usually wake up to a new ‘ear worm’ every day so I am used to it… but this one just WONT GO AWAY!! SOS
I get a song every night when I am in bed trying to fall asleep. Most often it is nothing I’ve heard recently or even like. Sometimes it’s a commercial jingle with only one line repeated over and over. I have tried to replace the song with another which slows the mania and sometimes stops it or just swaps out the song. I try to fall asleep with thoughts of building a small home space where I am safe. I walk through the rooms and methodically lock up all the doors and windows so that no one can see in or get in. I am cozy in a cottage-like home and eventually I fall asleep. I don’t understand where this comes from, nor have I ever shared this with anyone. My brief respit was during this pandemic when a lot came to pass and I thought, finally the music died. I also considered, did I mentally give up and lose something I didn’t even know was important. The music came back! I don’t know if it means I am alive or crazy. I just want one good nights sleep!
The same thing happens to me. Thank you for sharing because I also don’t know if I’m alive or just crazy! Haha. Hope you can get some sleep. Xanax helps 😉
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.
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.
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…
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.
Is it still going on with the earworms, I’m having the same problem
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.
My exact problem I’m so sick and tired of hearing random songs pop up in my head all-day at night when I’m trying to sleep and as soon as I wake up. Lately I can’t sleep toss and turn hearing the songs in my head is driving me nuts… it’s been 3 years ago you wrote this post, is it still going on with you … This been happening with me for about 2weeks …
Hi Roxi, it’s happening more and more to everyone. My brother and I had Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in our head for 2 weeks after watching an online concert. Certain times of the day you’ll find a song gets stuck in your head when you’re most “receptive” (for example, if your alarm goes off to a song, that might get stuck in your head versus a song you hear on the radio after lunch). Try our remedies, they work!
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.
You are so right. This happens to me all the time in choir.
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.
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.
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. 🙁
‘The Entertainer’ and ‘Turkey in the Straw’. Silly ice cream truck. I hear it in my head for days.
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 !
Mine is a Geico commercial too. Buttercup Baby, the woman in the motorcycle shop. It’s been driving me crazy day and night for a week or so.
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
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
“It’s A Small World After All”
sorry if I set anyone off.
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!
I get rid of mine by Ingesting Medical Cannabis-Y’all should too as this works the BEST! Ishould know, I’m a Doctor!
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!
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.
We call them brain songs.
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.
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.
Sadly, my “earworms” have caused me to give up listening to any music especially while driving.
The Addams Family theme song will go on for days or No Mild Today by Herman’s Hermits.
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.
Once, a colleague simply held the note, “Ahhhhhhh” and I had The Mr. Ed theme song stuck in my head for a month.
I sing Joe Cocker’s “You are so beautiful to me.” The tempo is slow and reminds me of happier times.
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.
Me too…. Are you still having them I see you wrote this 5 years ago ….
Almost very night between 3 and 4 am I wind up listening to the theme song for Goldfinger or listening to MC Hammer song. Can’t get it to stop. When I take a sleeping pill (Lunesta) it does not happen. Only nights when I take Melatonin. No trouble getting to sleep, just staying asleep 3-6 am.
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.
Listening to classical music does help me but I sure wish there was help for this problem , it drives me and apparently a lot of others crazy
Hi Norene, did you try the suggestions in our story and they didn’t work?
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.
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.
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?