When was the last time you sat in silence?
In the car we listen to the radio. Then we turn on the TV as soon as we walk through the door. Most people I see running (even in nature) put headphones in and listen to music.
We live in a world where our brains are forced to compute information around the clock. Even when all devices and entertainment are turned off, most people live in cities where constant background noise has made true silence hard to come by.
We’ve been forced to schedule silence into our lifestyle. We seek out meditation classes and vacations in remote locations. We crave silence. And there’s a scientific reason for it! We need silence to reboot, mentally and physically.
Reboot your brain
Sensory overload is common since information is being thrown at us from every screen and speaker in our world. When we can finally escape the busyness of life and the sonic disruptions that come with it, our brains’ attention centers finally have the opportunity to restore themselves.
The relentless flow of sounds and images strain our ability to focus and put a significant burden on the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is involved in high-order thinking, decision-making and problem-solving. It’s natural that we would become easily distracted and mentally fatigued. Creativity suffers and productivity wains as we struggle to complete a single task.
But there is hope! Studies done on attention restoration theory show that the brain can restore its cognitive resources when we spend time in places with lower levels of sensory input. Being in a quiet space without your cellphone lets the brain let down its sensory guard and begin to renew itself.
REGENERATE BRAIN CELLS
A 2013 study on mice, published in the journal Brain, Structure, and Function, compared different sounds and how they effect the neurological structure of the brain. They tested ambient noise, white noise, pup calls and silence. They also created a control group that listened to silence. Unexpectedly, the researchers found that the control group developed new cells in the hippocampus, a key brain region associated with learning, memory and emotion.
Even 2 hours of silence a day resulted in similar effects. Your brain is able to regenerate cells when you pass the time in silence.
The next time you come home exhausted and stressed out – instead of reaching for “relaxing music” or flipping on a distracting TV show try to sit for a few minutes in silence. You don’t need to meditate necessarily, just try to sit on a couch or chair with your own thoughts. It’s harder than you think! But silence is what you need.
A 2006 study discovered that two minutes of silence will be more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music, based on changes in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.
It turns out that background noise and noise pollution, regardless of the content has been found to lead to high blood pressure and heart attacks. Loud noises raise stress levels by activating the brain’s amygdala and causing the release of the stress hormone cortisol, according to research.