The sound (and health benefits) of silence

Let’s face it, noise is everywhere. It’s part of our daily lives. Even when we’re sitting in total silence there’s usually some background noise happening – the ticking of a clock, the whir or a fan, the clicking of a keyboard.

There’s noise and then there’s noise. Notice the marked difference between these ambient sounds? The cacophony of neighbourhood kids playing and a lawnmower’s roar, vs. the urban symphony of pounding jackhammers and the din of cars speeding across a highway. Research has proved an abundance of the latter types of noise pollution is actually bad for us and has been linked to high blood pressure, sleep deprivation and heart disease.

The World Health Organization in 2011 estimated the entire population of Western Europe (about 340 million people) lost a combined million years of healthy life due to heart disease caused by excessive noise.

But is there such thing as good noise? Is silence really golden?

Scientists have found that the effects of various types of noise, such as music, short bursts of sound or ambient noise, all have varying effects on the body. As stated earlier, loud or jarring noise has detrimental effects, particularly on the heart. The positive effects of noise, or lack thereof, are somewhat surprising.

Put away your headphones

We tend to use the words “quiet” and “silence” interchangeably, but a 2006 study published in the journal Heart found two minutes of silence produced favourable changes in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain, whereas two minutes of “relaxing” music had a less desirable effect.

Grow a pair

Of brain cells, that is. In a Duke University study using mice as test subjects, regenerative biologist Imke Kirste found that two hours of silence a day produced new cell creation in the hippocampus (the main part of the brain associated with memory) and heightened the mice’s alertness.

Tap into your mental well

A quiet mind is actually an active mind. In stillness, our brain goes into what is known as the Default Mode Network. According to the website Brainfacts.org, in the Default Mode Network, the brain remains active while we are awake, sleeping, focused, or daydreaming.

One theory suggests our minds wander in this mode, enabling us to tap into our stream of consciousness.

Another theory is that our brains go into processing and information maintenance – kind of like defragmenting a computer’s hard drive. Those who have “various psychological disorders including ADHD, Schizophrenia, Autism and Alzheimer’s exhibit different types of abnormal functioning,” state Brain Facts’ researchers.

Convene with Nature

When we’re bombarded with noise, it puts a stress on the brain’s prefrontal cortex — the area responsible for problem-solving and decision-making. This causes us to become distracted, and we struggle with focus, fatigue and the creative process.

In a world where noise-cancelling devices are a thing, a literal moment of silence can help the brain restore itself and help us refresh our mental stores.

Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

There’s research to corroborate his thought, so get outside for a walk and partake in a little Attention Restoration all in the name of science.

Disclaimer:
This article is for the purpose of providing information only. It is not intended as the practice of medicine or the provision of medical services. This site does not provide medical advice; the content provided is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult your provider or other healthcare professional with any question regarding any medical or mental health condition.
Sources:
http://www.brainfacts.org
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201205/quiet-please
http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/environment-and-health/noise/data-and-statistics
http://www.wienerzeitung.at/_em_daten/_wzo/2015/08/07/150807_1710_kaplan_s._19951.pdf
http://www.brainfacts.org/brain-basics/neural-network-function/articles/2011/a-brief-introduction-to-the-default-mode-network/
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259110014_Is_silence_golden_Effects_of_auditory_stimuli_and_their_absence_on_adult_hippocampal_neurogenesis

How do you escape from the din of everyday life? What are some of your tricks? Tell us! Leave your comments below.