In 2011, the World Health Organisation called noise pollution ‘the modern plague’. Noise can have several detrimental effects on our body – physically as well as mentally. This is why these days, more and more scientists are endorsing silence as a way to soothe our brains.
In a world filled with vehicles and convenient music players, you might find it hard to detach yourself from sounds and noises. But too much of something can be harmful. Silence can help your body find a balance after you’ve been exposed to a large amount of noise.
Here are some of the reasons why silence is crucial for our brains:
1. Silence relieves stress and tension
One study posted in the journal ‘Heart’ showed that simply two minutes of silence was enough to stabilise the blood pressure of some people and normalise blood circulation in the brain. The study even mentions that the results with silence was far better (in terms of inducing a state of physiological calmness) than listening to relaxing music.
Noise has been shown to have a very definite physical effect on our stress hormones. Another study published by Gary W. Evans ( professor of human ecology, Cornell University) showed that children exposed to a large amount of noise from an early age develop a stress response that tells them to ignore the noise.
What you may find surprising is that your body reacts to noise even when you are sleeping. Located in the temporal lobes of the brain, a region known as the ‘amygdalae’ is associated with memory formation and emotion and its activation has been highly correlated with the release of stress hormones. If you are living in a very noisy environment, then there is a very high chance that you may have a stress level that is higher than average.
Some things a high level of noise can lead to are:
- disrupted sleep patterns
- elevated blood pressure
- increased heart rates and distress.
Even the famous British nurse, Florence Nightingale, argued that noise is not good for the recovery of patients as it caused sleep loss and alarm.
2. Silence can help regenerate our brain cells
Silence does actually have the capability to change the wires of your brain. A study published in the journal ‘Brain, Structure and Function’ showed that mice, when exposed to two hours of silence per day, experienced an increase in the number of brain cells in the hippocampus area ( the region in the brain responsible for memory, emotions and learning).
As the researchers saw the generated cells turn to into actual functioning neurons researchers hope that these findings will aid in finding treatment for diseases like dementia and depression. Scientists say that these disorders are linked with declining rates of neurogenesis in the hippocampus.
3. Silence allows you to evaluate information more clearly
Studies have shown that even in ‘resting’ positions, our brains can process information. The ‘default mode network’ of the brain is the state where we let our minds wander (i.e. as some presume, where our brains are in resting state). This state can also be referred to as “self-generated cognition” such as daydreaming, meditating, or fantasizing.
Silence gives us the opportunity to reflect on ourselves and look into our inner stream of thoughts, ideas, memories and emotions. It allows us to be reflective which can lead to us being more empathetic and creative.
When our brain is in this ‘default mode’ we can think in a more deeper sense by keeping distractions like noise at bay. If you constantly find yourself being a ‘scatterbrain’ or having a brain fog, try sitting in silence for at least 5 mins per day and see if it changes your ability to concentrate.
4. Silence replenishes our cognitive resources
We absorb ourselves in so many activities on a regular basis that we exhaust our mental resources quite easily. Having to respond to inputs that we receive from all our sensory glands can get a bit overwhelming, if not tiring. When you use your brain in such a hectic manner for a prolonged period of time, it can result in some negative effects on the prefrontal cortex of your brain (the region that is responsible for high order thinking, decision making and problem solving).
This is when the mental fatigue starts to hit and even if you feel like you’re giving your 100% into something, you actually won’t be able to concentrate fully into the task at all. You might be distracted and find it challenging to focus properly.
The attention restoration theory states that the brain can replenish its limited mental resources when it is in environments with lower levels of sensory inputs than usual. When you are in a silent setting, your brain can restore your resources faster.
5. Silence allows your brain to process information more clearly
Results have repeatedly shown that people work better in a silent environment than in a noisy one. Whether it is during a test or working on an office project, silence allows your brain to focus on all the necessary points and ward off possible distractions. This can lead to a higher form of critical thinking and reasoning skills.
Noise has also shown to decrease motivation and increase errors in various tasks. Noise pollution has such detrimental effects on our information processing abilities that studies have also concluded that students living near high traffic areas or high noise generating areas like railways and airports have lower reading scores. These students also usually have slower development of cognitive and language skills.
Get Some Quiet time
On the basis of this article you can see how beneficial silence can be. If possible set aside a bit of time each day to spend time in silence. You could go for a walk at lunch time or sit and travel without listening to music or watching videos on your phone.
The best thing about silence is it’s free, but you may have to go out your way to find some. But over a certain period of time you’ll see that it’s worth it!