Doc: Does listening to music help sleep, study?

Keith Roach
To Your Health

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?


Dear S.W.: 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: I am a 76-year-old woman in reasonably good health. Recently, I had a routine colonoscopy that resulted in the diagnosis of mild diverticulitis. The oncologist didn’t seem concerned and advised a follow-up colonoscopy in five years. Can you tell me about the cause, care and treatment of this condition?


Dear D.H.: I suspect you had diverticulosis rather than diverticulitis (the two often are confused). Diverticula are small pouches in the wall of the colon. Just having them is called diverticulosis; however, they can become infected and inflamed, in which case you would have diverticulitis. Diverticulitis usually causes abdominal pain and often fever.

The oncologist isn’t concerned because these do not lead to cancer. But it’s still good to know about them, since diverticulosis puts you at risk not only for diverticulitis (usually treated with antibiotics, but recurrent severe cases may benefit from surgery), but also bleeding.

Diverticulosis is thought to arise from having high pressure in the colon. Constipation, with its attendant straining for a bowel movement, is a known cause of diverticulosis. Interestingly, higher toilets increase colon pressure during defecation, and there is a trend to make toilets lower.

A high-fiber diet tends to reduce constipation and straining, and it reduces complications of diverticulosis (and might prevent them in the first place). Nuts and seeds, which have long been forbidden to people with this condition by their doctors, turn out to be a rare cause for an attack of diverticulitis.

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