How long can a song be stuck in your head?

Quick Answer

There is no definitive answer for how long a song can stay stuck in your head, as this phenomenon, known as earworms or involuntary musical imagery, varies significantly from person to person. However, research suggests that the average length of an earworm episode is approximately 27.3 hours. Some last for just a few minutes while other extremely stubborn songs can remain stuck for days or even weeks at a time. The length depends on factors like the song’s melody, lyric content, and associated memories or emotions. Strategies like listening to the full song or distracting yourself with another activity can help end a stubborn earworm episode.

What Causes Earworms?

An earworm refers to a catchy tune or song snippet that replays repeatedly in someone’s mind without conscious control. Also called involuntary musical imagery or stuck song syndrome, earworms tend to involve recurring loops of just 15-30 seconds of the original song. This phenomenon is extremely common, affecting over 90% of people regularly.

Research has uncovered several factors that can trigger earworm episodes:

  • Exposure – Hearing a catchy song actually increases your chances of it getting stuck in your head. Songs with repetitive melodies and lyrics also tend to cause more earworms.
  • Memory Triggers – Encountering words, sounds, or images associated with a familiar song can cause it to start replaying mentally.
  • Stress – Studies show times of boredom, fatigue, and stress increase earworm frequency, potentially due to increased mind wandering.
  • Lyrics – Songs with lyrics are more likely to get stuck than instrumental music alone.

In essence, earworms occur when your brain unintentionally loops a tiny fragment of auditory memory, often triggered by a reminder in your environment. This involuntary replay is your brain’s way of practicing and solidifying the song in your long-term memory.

How Long Do Earworms Last?

There is no single duration for how long an earworm can last. Individual episodes of involuntary musical imagery range from a few seconds in length to a few minutes. In more extreme cases, the same stubborn song or tune can replay mentally for hours, days, or even weeks at a time.

In 2016, researchers conducted a large online survey of over 3,000 people about their typical earworm experiences. The study found:

  • The average earworm episode lasted about 27.3 hours.
  • Nearly a third (28%) said a typical episode persisted for under an hour.
  • For 55%, earworms lasted less than a day before fading.
  • But 23% said their most stubborn earworms continued for 2 or more days.
  • In some cases, the same song lingered for weeks in a person’s head.

So while bothersome tunes tend to get unstuck within a day for most people, earworm durations range dramatically from minutes to weeks depending on the individual and other factors.

Factors Affecting Earworm Longevity

Research has uncovered several factors that appear to influence how long an earworm episode will last:

Song Features

The features of the song itself impact how easily it gets stuck and remains looping. Songs with:

  • Repetitive melodies or lyrics
  • Common song structures like ABAB or verse-chorus forms
  • Rhythmic speech patterns
  • Upbeat tempos between 100-120 bpm

All tend to cause longer-lasting earworms compared to slower, more complex songs. Pop songs are common culprits given their formulaic melodies and repeating lyrics.


Familiar, well-known songs have longer earworm durations than novel songs. The strongest earworms tend to be songs with significance and emotional attachment or nostalgia for the listener.

Recent Exposure

Hearing a catchy song, even briefly, primes your brain to repeat it and increases earworm susceptibility for the next 12-24 hours. Recent exposure is a main triggers of stuck song episodes.


Mundane activities like chores, exercising, or commuting provide mental space for earworms to start looping, while cognitively demanding tasks suppress them. Boredom and mind wandering also enable longer earworms.


Personality impacts earworm susceptibility. People with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, neuroticism, and perfectionism tend to experience longer musical replays. Higher music aptitude and training also correlate with longer and more frequent earworms.

Circadian Rhythm

Earworms happen more frequently during common slumps in alertness, especially mid-morning and late evening. Disruptions to sleep and circadian rhythms also enable lengthier musical replays.

In summary, repetitious pop songs are prone to lengthy earworms, especially among musically inclined people doing routine tasks. Emotional attachment to a song also prolongs its replay in the mind.

How to Get Rid of a Stubborn Earworm

Earworms tend fade on their own after running their course. But for stubborn tunes that stick around, research suggests several effective techniques to help end the replay:

Listen to the Full Song

Surprisingly, listening to the full song all the way through (rather than just a 15 second loop) can help pop the earworm and clear your auditory memory.

Engage in Cognitive Tasks

Activities requiring focus like reading, having conversations, completing math problems, or playing games suppress earworms by blocking the mind wandering that enables them.

Chew Gum

Chewing gum redirects your auditory loop away from replaying songs. The mechanical motion and sounds of chewing disrupt an earworm.

Listen to Different Music

Redirect your mental loop by listening to or imagining a new song that captures your attention. Upbeat songs in a major key work best to displace earworms.


Getting adequate good quality sleep and maintaining consistent daily rhythms allows your brain to reset and clear those looping tunes.

With persistence, nearly all earworms will eventually fade on their own. But using cognitive distraction, music displacement, and daily routine can help loosen those sticky songs sooner.


Earworms are a common and mysterious mental phenomenon that affects nearly everyone at times. While songs usually replay for just a few minutes, in some cases the same tune can linger for hours, days or weeks before finally fading. Repetitive pop songs get stuck most frequently and for longer durations. But factors like familiarity, recent exposure, mundane activities, personality, and circadian dips enable even more stubborn musical replays. Thankfully several techniques like playing the full song, chewing gum, or focusing intently on an activity can help eject those sticky tunes. With an understanding of what causes earworms and how to disrupt them, you can minimize those annoying involuntary melodies.

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