Category Archives: Common Myths

Does listening to music improve cognition?


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Whether you’re at the grocery store, work, or in the classroom, you are guaranteed to see people wearing headphones or earbuds. With listening made easier than ever by mobile devices, we can be exposed to music at all times. However, is this beneficial to our concentration and productivity? You might hear that music can improve cognition and memory. Let’s think twice about how music impacts our cognition. What is the evidence that listening to music improves memory and cognition? 

The evidence is mostly circumstantial and non-experimental.  For instance, a 2007 study evaluated brain responses to musical symphonies in 18 people and found that listening to classical music stimulated parts of the brain related to working memory (1).  

A study of 65 adults with an average age of 69 demonstrated that adults who listened to classical music during a vocabulary test and a semantic memory test had faster processing speeds than adults who listened to no music or to white noise (2).   

A 2019 study of 18 participants found music activated reward centers of the brain as measured by fMRI.  

On the other hand, experimental studies do not support the idea that music improves cognition. One study randomized 86 university students to read some learning material with or without background music and found no improvement in recall or comprehension (3).  Another study divided students into no music, simple music, or complex music groups and completed cognitive tasks categorized as easy and hard. The researchers found that the effectiveness depended on the participants’ need for external stimulation while completing tasks. Participants not desiring external stimulation performed better in the no music group. So the association with music may be specific to individual preferences.  

With the available evidence, it’s not clear that listening to music improves cognition and it may vary. If listening to music works for you, science does not provide compelling reasons to stop. And there is also no reason to pick it up if that’s not your habit.  


  1. Sridharan, Devarajan et al. “Neural dynamics of event segmentation in music: converging evidence for dissociable ventral and dorsal networks.” Neuron vol. 55,3 (2007): 521-32. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2007.07.003 
  1. Bottiroli, Sara et al. “The cognitive effects of listening to background music on older adults: processing speed improves with upbeat music, while memory seems to benefit from both upbeat and downbeat music.” Frontiers in aging neuroscience vol. 6 284. 15 Oct. 2014, doi:10.3389/fnagi.2014.00284 
  1. Gold, Benjamin P et al. “Musical reward prediction errors engage the nucleus accumbens and motivate learning.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 116,8 (2019): 3310-3315. doi:10.1073/pnas.1809855116 
  1. Gonzalez, Manuel F, and John R Aiello. “More than meets the ear: Investigating how music affects cognitive task performance.” Journal of experimental psychology. Applied vol. 25,3 (2019): 431-444. doi:10.1037/xap0000202 


Are Melatonin Supplements Effective Sleep Aids?

Platform bed and nightstand with lamp.

IMG via University of Michigan School of Public Health 

With all the distractions in our lives, falling asleep can be difficult. Especially with our phones and other devices stimulating us at all hours, it is easy to derail our natural sleep cycles. While sleeping pills are prescribed carefully in select circumstances, over-the-counter sleep aids like sedating antihistamines (Benadryl) and melatonin are also available (1,2). In particular, melatonin, a hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle, has grown in popularity. Now, children and adults alike have started to include melatonin gummies in their nighttime routines (3). But should we think twice about the effectiveness of melatonin supplements as sleep aids? Are there any downsides to regular or long-term use? Should we prioritize healthy sleep habits and attention to our mental health?  

Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland of the brain and regulates circadian rhythm, or the cycle of alertness and sleepiness resulting from light changes in the environment (4,5). Melatonin production is highest when the environment is dark and decreases as the environment becomes lighter. This means that melatonin production can be hindered if light exposure is too high at night, leading to difficulty falling asleep (6). Melatonin supplements function by regulating patterns of sleepiness, although the exact role of melatonin is not known.  

Three systematic reviews with meta-analysis found that melatonin supplements lowered sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and improved sleep quality better than placebos (7). Additionally, these reviews found that melatonin supplements increased total sleep time (8), and improved sleep quality based on a sleep quality assessment, except in subjects with mental health disorders or neurodegenerative diseases (9).  

There are some concerns about potential downsides of long-term melatonin use in children (10). One study of 69 young adults with chronic sleep-onset insomnia during childhood found no differences in sleep quality between people that used melatonin for a mean of 11 years and people that did not use melatonin (11). While this finding may alleviate concerns about the safety of long-term melatonin use, it also questions the efficacy of melatonin since young adults did not experience significantly improved sleep quality in later life related to melatonin use.  

While the use of melatonin is associated with some sleep benefits more information is needed regarding the degree of benefit and potential harms. If you’re considering melatonin, it may be wise to attend to healthy sleep habits, such as limiting caffeine intake and avoiding use of electronic devices and blue light prior to sleep, and also prioritize alleviation of any feelings of despair or anxiety.   


1. Mayo Clinic Staff. Prescription Sleeping Pills: What’s Right for You? Mayo Clinic.

2. Mayo Clinic Staff. Sleep Aids: Understand Options Sold Without a Prescription. Mayo Clinic.

3. Fliesler, Nancy. Melatonin for kids: Is it safe? Is it effective? Boston Children’s Hospital. 13 June 2022.

4. Zisapel N. New perspectives on the role of melatonin in human sleep, circadian rhythms and their regulation. Br J Pharmacol. 2018;175(16):3190-3199. doi:10.1111/bph.14116

5. Reddy S, Reddy V, Sharma S. Physiology, Circadian Rhythm. [Updated 2023 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:

6. Melatonin: What You Need to Know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

7. Li T, Jiang S, Han M, et al. Exogenous melatonin as a treatment for secondary sleep disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2019;52:22-28. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.06.004

8. Chan V, Lo K. Efficacy of dietary supplements on improving sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Postgrad Med J. 2022;98(1158):285-293. doi:10.1136/postgradmedj-2020-139319

9. Fatemeh G, Sajjad M, Niloufar R, Neda S, Leila S, Khadijeh M. Effect of melatonin supplementation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Neurol. 2022;269(1):205-216. doi:10.1007/s00415-020-10381-w

10. Van de Walle, Gavin. “What does melatonin do, and how does it work?” Healthline. January 13, 2023.

11. Zwart TC, Smits MG, Egberts TCG, Rademaker CMA, van Geijlswijk IM. Long-Term Melatonin Therapy for Adolescents and Young Adults with Chronic Sleep Onset Insomnia and Late Melatonin Onset: Evaluation of Sleep Quality, Chronotype, and Lifestyle Factors Compared to Age-Related Randomly Selected Population Cohorts. Healthcare (Basel). 2018;6(1):23. Published 2018 Mar 2. doi:10.3390/healthcare6010023


Does plucking gray hairs cause more to grow in its place?

If you’re looking in the mirror and see a lone gray hair, it might be tempting to pull it out. However, there have been warnings that plucking out strands of gray hair can result in multiple more appearing. Is that true? Should we avoid pulling out the gray strands?   

Hair gets its color from melanin, a pigment in our hair, eyes, and skin. The amount of this pigment decreases as we age, and less melanin is produced. Once these pigment-producing cells in the hair follicle die, our hair displays no color, which we interpret as gray. Plucking one gray hair does not impact the hair follicles around it since the surrounding cells are still alive and will maintain our natural hair color.  

There may be another reason not to pluck gray hairs.  Each time you pluck a hair, it grows out thinner or may not grow back at all.    

 It may seem like plucking on gray hair leads to others, but that’s probably just your head aging.  Plucking a gray hair does not affect the other hair follicles, but it does damage that one follicle you pluck. Embrace the gray or choose to dye your hair, but don’t fret about plucking.    


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