Science Says Silence is Vital for Our Brains

Science Says Silence is Vital for Our Brains
Discover the unimaginable ways that quiet time can benefit you.

The value of silence is felt by everyone at some point in their life. Silence is comforting, nourishing and cosy. It opens us up to inspiration and nurtures the mind, body and soul. Meanwhile, the madness of the noisy world is drowning out our creativity, our inner connection and hampering our resilience. Science is now showing that silence may be just what we need to regenerate our exhausted brains and bodies.

Studies show that noise has a powerful physical effect on our brains, causing elevated levels of stress hormones. Sound travels to the brain as electrical signals via the ear. Even when we are sleeping these sound waves cause the body to react and activate the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with memory and emotion, leading to the release of stress hormones. So, living in a consistently noisy environment will cause you to experience extremely high levels of these harmful hormones.

Interestingly, the word noise is said to come from the Latin word nausia, (disgust or nausea) or the Latin word noxia, meaning hurt, damage or injury. Noise has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, tinnitus and loss of sleep. We’ve all experienced the detrimental effects of noise pollution. Excessive noise can be a major affront to the physical senses and today, more and more people are identifying as highly sensitive and unable to function in chaotic and noisy environments. But now science has the proof not only that noise hurts, but also that silence heals.

The Effects of Silence

In 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) examined and quantified its health burden in Europe. It concluded that the 340 million residents of Western Europe (about the population of the United States), were losing a million years of healthy life every year, due to noise. WHO also said that the root cause of 3,000 heart disease deaths was due to excessive noise. A study by Professor Gary W. Evans from Cornell University, published in Psychological Science, charted the effects of airport noise on school children near Munich’s airport. The study showed that children exposed to noise developed a stress response which actually caused them to ignore the noise. He found that the children ignored both the harmful noise of the airport, along with other more everyday noises, such as speech.

This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise–even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage–causes stress and is harmful to humans. – Professor Gary Evans.

The brain responds to silenceThe brain recognises silence and responds powerfully. Image: Johannes Plenio

Scientists didn’t actively set out to study the effects of silence but instead discovered its benefits by accident. Silence first began to appear in scientific research as a control or baseline, against which scientists compare the effects of noise or music. Physician Luciano Bernardi studied the physiological effects of noise and music in 2006, making a startling discovery. When the subjects of his study were exposed to the random stretches of silence in between the noise and music, they experienced a powerful effect. The two-minute pauses were far more relaxing for the brain than the relaxing music or the longer silence that was in place before the experiment started. In fact, Bernardi’s ‘irrelevant’ blank pauses became the most important aspect of the study. One of his key findings was that silence is heightened by contrasts.

Many meditation teachers and practitioners can attest to this, and spiritual teachers advise students to take frequent meditative pauses throughout the day. Though we may think of silence as a lack of input, science says otherwise. The brain recognises silence and responds powerfully. Later research by a Duke University regenerative biologist, Imke Kirste, discovered that two hours of silence per day prompted cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region related to the formation of memory, involving the senses.

Taking Time to Switch Off

According to the Attention Restoration Theory, when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input, the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. With our digital world, our brains get less time to switch off. We are constantly processing enormous amounts of information. Research has shown the constant demands of modern life are placing a lot of stress on our prefrontal cortex–the part of the brain responsible for making decisions, solving problems and more. When we spend time alone in silence, our brains are able to relax and release this constant focus.

Researchers found that silence helps new cells to differentiate into neurons and integrate into the system, and that when we experience silence, our brains are able to work at better understanding our internal and external environments. We can make sense of our lives and gain perspective, something that is vital for our overall wellbeing.

While noise creates stress, silence relieves stress and tension in the brain and body. Silence is replenishing and nourishes our cognitive resources. Noise makes us lose our concentration, cognitive powers and causes decreased motivation and brain functioning (as backed up by research into the effects of noise), but studies show that spending some time in silence can amazingly restore what was lost through exposure to excessive noise. The ancient spiritual masters have known this all along; silence heals, silence takes us deeply into ourselves, and silence balances the body and mind. Now science is saying the same thing.

The healing benefits of nature and stillness are well documented, but now we can add to this quest for health and wellbeing, the nourishment of our brains. The simple yet ancient experience of silence could be just the healing balm we need to quell our crazy modern lifestyle.

Silence is an empty space. Space is the home of the awakened mind. – Buddha

~

What is your relationship with silence? Has this article changed or affirmed your own feelings about it? We would love to hear your thoughts, and experiences with silence in the comments below.

With love and quiet peace,
Team UPLIFT

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Pat
Pat
3 years ago

Unfortunately, i rarely experience silence due to tinnitus. Any suggestions?

Ben
Ben
3 years ago
Reply to  Pat

I was thinking the same thing. I also have tinnitus. But tinnitus is internal. So, maybe when it is externally silent – that is silence for us. Not sure…

Andy
Andy
2 years ago
Reply to  Pat

The most effective reduction in my tinnitus has been a low dose of antidepressant. A very noticeable 50% reduction. Some people also find magnesium helpful

Terry
Terry
2 years ago
Reply to  Pat

I was thinking the same thing!

Priscilla King
Priscilla King
2 years ago
Reply to  Pat

I’ve had mild tinnitus since my stapedius muscle started blocking input in my left ear, around age 30. It’s reduced my enjoyment of music but otherwise I know it’s just the vibrations of my own head, so ignore it and don’t believe it’s a problem. If I don’t hear 100% silence, I DO hear about 40% less external noise–and on the whole that’s good! I was hypersensitive to noise before.

Roman
Roman
2 years ago
Reply to  Pat

trying filling the bathtub and laying under water.

Linda Keser
Linda Keser
1 year ago
Reply to  Roman

I’m not sure I understand how this can be beneficial. Water amplifies sound. Please explain.

Gleni
Gleni
1 year ago
Reply to  Linda Keser

There is a silence and peace in being underwater . I recognise it. Maybe it takes us back to inside the womb. It’s comforting

Sylvia
Sylvia
1 year ago
Reply to  Pat

Yes, change your diet. Alkaline, Organic, Vegan, raw if ever possible.
Taking supliments. Mg, MSM, Borax etc.

Matthew Cross
Matthew Cross
1 year ago
Reply to  Pat

Go to an audiologist!

Brigid Mahon
Brigid Mahon
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Cross

They cannot help in any way

David
David
1 year ago
Reply to  Pat

I like many have tinnitus I live in the Manistee National Forest off a main hwy. After 10:00pm slight traffic I go behind house in to forest I have a place to sit,stand or lean After two or more hours I Feel Renewed and then sleep much better

Heksie
Heksie
3 years ago

I also have tinnitus but I make sure I get creative in my art without any other noise only the birds singing,then I don’t hear my tinnitus. The more you do something you love the less you hear your tinnitus. I got my tinnitus from noisy neighbours then we move to a quite place. Tinnitus is not nice but one learn to lived with it. I feel the less you think about tinnitus the less you hear it. God can help you with everything. Ben you are right external silent is internal silents for us.

Ingjerd
Ingjerd
3 years ago

I fully agree. A couple of years ago I held a lecture on silence in our lokal library. It was quite still in the room during the lecture, and I felt this was something people really needed to be aware of. Very good, special atmosphere after the lecture also.
I am totally convinced that silence has that positive impact on us, by my own experience.
Great that science also find it interesting to study now!

Ena
Ena
3 years ago

Ever since I was a small child, noise has affected me very badly. In my experience I have found it disorienting and very stressful. For me silence is truly a jewel to treasure and make time for daily!

Victor
Victor
3 years ago

What about white noise or brown noise?

Nathan
Nathan
3 years ago
Reply to  Victor

I was going to ask the same thing! I also wonder if it might have to do with adaptation: born in NYC, I knew someone who felt “comforted” by the honks of cars in Manhattan. I couldn’t stand it, being raised in the country.

Paul A. L. Hall
Paul A. L. Hall
2 years ago
Reply to  Nathan

one of the benefits of certain types of “white” sounds, like running water, is that it allows the sharp abrupt “black” sounds to be somewhat neutralised. It’s a natural form of “cancelation”. It’s also important to note that in that case the speakers should be pointed outwards toward the source of the black noise sources and in cases when the decibel rating approaches sixty or seventy, attenuation, such as ear plugs, should be worn. This reduces both sounds by a factor of about fifteen to twenty-five percent. The ideal is deliberately locating one’s self in a noise-free environment. There are products in the construction industry that can be instaled in the personal quarters such as sound-proofing vinyl, sound-proof glass, and other things such as chamber walls and ceiling covered with elongated special foam rubber pyramids. The latter can achieve complete sound-proofing. In such chambers, the individual can hear a drum and a high whining sound. This is the sound of his or her own heard and the high pitch of the nerve activity. Care must be taken for those entering a total sound-proof room since often they can react with extreme panic and hysteria which might be somewhat damaging to the mental health of such types … check my Facebook group “Paul Hall bringing good sleep to you”.

Elle Green
Elle Green
2 years ago
Reply to  Victor

I find white noise causes stress. When I turn it off, very relaxing to have silence.

Paul A. L. Hall
Paul A. L. Hall
2 years ago
Reply to  Elle Green

The main function of white noise is that it can be used when there is no other option. It must not be confused with silence as a benefit, but it can produce a steady sound which enables the reduction of the type of stress such as, for example, a hammer driving nails nearby or a honking horn (especially if someone has to sleep near a parking lot where car horns make a brief sound to confirm a lock-up when it’s driver leaves and activates the remote lock feature on modern car keys). I used a recording of a small brook which I called “Water Brook Bravo” when I resided in a cheap hotel in Caracas, Venezuela back in 1987, which played Merengue music at full volume on speakers throughout the hotel 24/7. As for the annoyance of an available white sound, with patience, you can get used to it, but it sometimes takes time. In my army barracks back in 1967, the only way for me to get sleep in the incessant bedlam of most of the other soldiers and their “record players” was to attach my blanket to my floor fan and sleep with the fan blowing on “high” beyond the pillow near my head. It took about a half hour to get “used to it”, but the relief of being able to sleep after that was fabulous. Also, at Fort Monmouth, a white sound was used to keep the Soviets from listening to the classes of cryptography on the top floor on one of the buildings. Of course, silence is highly preferable. But for that, you are going to have to be in greater control of your whereabouts. It was once noted in one news article I read that the average human being is the noisiest animal in existence.

Jeff Agostinelli
Jeff Agostinelli
3 years ago

Absolutely love this article, thanks Azriel! Silence is golden 🙂

Beverley.....
Beverley.....
3 years ago

Well i have always know this to be true..so glad science has caught up …i am at my best in if not silence quiet surroundibgs…but i long for silence daily..i have Bipolar 1 and i know that noise is a triggor for me to become unwell…noise is toxic energy..silence is Golden Nectar….white light ..pure energy….???..like sunshine for the soul..

Edvard
Edvard
3 years ago

I got level3 tinnitus and AS (Asperger) so noise is hell.

Troy
Troy
2 years ago

This meditation helps one achieve mental silence through thoughtless awareness.
http://www.freemeditation.com

Laura
Laura
2 years ago

I have been using earplugs when I sleep. It is making all the difference in a brain injury I have as far as getting my equilibrium back and healing. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was sleeping uninterrupted or both but now I know it is because my hormones levels have lowered as my body doesn’t respond to every bump in the night. I’m glad to see the research. It certainly has improved my life to block it all out and relax and sleep in silence.

paulette
paulette
2 years ago

my job has become a noise. pollutant..and i have seen the stressers it has caused..and the results ..in my life..i have to get thru this year..and i am out..hope to reverse the damage quickly…

Wendy Jorgensen
Wendy Jorgensen
2 years ago

As a musician and mother I’ve learned how helpful it can be to turn off all the noise – the subsequent creative energy is remarkable & deeply refreshing.

El QUixote
El QUixote
2 years ago

I”ve been campaigning for years against noisy motorbikes and other unnecessarily noisy machines to no avail. The ecological ignorance and apathy out there is as large, or larger, and much noisier than the universe.

Delmam Assis
Delmam Assis
2 years ago

I feel this! I love the silence!

B.G.Ramaprasad
B.G.Ramaprasad
2 years ago

Blood is pumped.With every pumping body bumps during day time and when we are working physically. But, during night time or when body is not working the body does not bump woth every pumping of blood. There is relax in the body, spiritually it is one with atma or soul or paramatma as anoraneeyan, the effect is sleep, the more relax the body is, the more relaxing , and it is Antaranga Darshan or Vishwaroppa Darshan. We all do experience this during our sleep. But, to peep outside our body is essential to have Virat Darshan of The Paramatma. That is, Maha Advaita Vedanta Philosophy, and it is feeling of One with The Universe and The Paramatma, as Mahato Maheeyan.
B.G.RAMAPRASAD

Margo
Margo
2 years ago

Can you subscribe me manually.
I must resubscribe manually due to a Mailchimp compliance issue.

Paul A. L. Hall
Paul A. L. Hall
2 years ago

A study done in New York City by the City Government in 1965 found that prologued exposure to noise or any sound for that matter above a certain decibel level (I think it was around 75 decibels)for extended periods definitely resulted in causing the victim to become insane …

Jana
Jana
1 year ago

Phillip Island is only 1.5 hrs from Melbourne.

Sylvia
Sylvia
1 year ago

I did the 10 days Vipassana (includes nobel silence) the most shocking experience was the last day when all people started chatting again in the dining room. Horrible.

IGNITED
IGNITED
1 year ago

Does sensory music help cause thats what has been keeping me calm for years when i get super stressed i put that on and it makes me feel relaxed so idk if it counts now that i read this article

UPLIFT
Editor
UPLIFT
1 year ago
Reply to  IGNITED

Hi there,
My understanding is that silence is important and has its own benefits but that’s not to say that other music – like sensory – can’t also impact us positively. If you find it calms you, that’s great! But it’s probably good to have silence too sometimes, even if just at night 🙂

Blessings,
Team UPLIFT

Jennifer
Jennifer
1 year ago

True silence seems impossible to achieve. Even in the middle of the woods, away from all human sounds, the water, birds, insects provide constant sound.

Does anyone have experience with noise canceling headphones.

UPLIFT
Editor
UPLIFT
1 year ago
Reply to  Jennifer

This is true Jennifer. I believe a certain degree of soft, background noise or white noise is still very benefitial.

Blessings,
Team UPLIFT

Cathy
Cathy
1 year ago

Concerning the tinnitus discussion…..what I got from the article is that noise raises bad hormone levels snd silence lowers them. So it would seem tinnitus noise would be a constant hormone release with never having silence to lower them. If this is the case I think more effort should be put toward finding a real cure. Not a try this or try that kind of thing.

Helen Allen
Helen Allen
1 year ago

Where or how do you find silence in an urban setting?

Brian
Brian
9 months ago
Reply to  Helen Allen

Get some earplugs. Some moldable ones to put in your ear canals and also soundproofing headphones, what you would use at a shooting range.

You can get both of these online.
This is what I did.

It doesn’t completely block out all sound but it is greatly reduced.

Caroline
Caroline
1 year ago

Please site your sources

EB
EB
1 year ago

Yes, I have the pricey Bose sound canceling headphones and sometimes I find myself sitting with them on and not realizing that the audio or music has ended. Silence is golden as they say and it is very addicting.

jing marcos
jing marcos
1 year ago

does listening to affirmation whilst sleeping considered noise as well?, pls clarify. thank you.

Arquiteq
Arquiteq
1 year ago
Reply to  jing marcos

I think so as your brain still has to process it. I would guess weight the benefit of subliminal with that of silence for you. Or just do both by alternating.

Diana
Diana
1 year ago

For those of you who suffer from tinnitus, put both your hands over your ears so that the fingers tips touch each other on the back of your head, then tap the back of your head with your finger tips.

You’re welcome.

BJ
BJ
1 year ago
Reply to  Diana

What is supposed to happen. I did it but got nothing but the sound of my fingers tapping inside my skull added to the tinnitus screeching… When I’m in silence the tinnitus is harder to ignore… So I find that having other sounds helps me ignore the tinnitus sound better, which I guess this could be considered as sorta doing, but it’s still there. I agree with someone else who commented that more research needs to be done on this ailment. If profits are the catalyst of research then rest assured that if a ‘cure’ or way to reduce it is discovered it would sell world wide!

Ziane
Ziane
1 year ago

Thanks for this informations.

UPLIFT
Editor
UPLIFT
1 year ago
Reply to  Ziane

You’re very welcome! Much love from Team UPLIFT.

Ri
Ri
1 year ago

For everyone suffeting tinnitus…I have one solution: ear plugs.

The more you protect your ears from the noise, the more this issue heals. At least this is my case. I suffered all my life, but protected my ears all my life as well. When tinnitus is bad, I protect them more, even outside.

Now, when reading this…I noticed tinnitus first time for…..months….more than a year. I had forgotten it and hadn’t even paid attention. Sometimes I thought it had gone. Now it game back…makes me wonder <3

Ri
Ri
1 year ago
Reply to  Ri

And btw.: I so relate to the article. Roger that!

Glen Evans
Glen Evans
1 year ago

Noise is not the opposite of silence. I love a quiet environment, but would hate to be deaf. I love the sound of a babbling brook, the laughter of a child, mellow music. Sound is a good thing.
To move into the metaphysical realm, I do not accept that silence is necessary to hear God. I have absolute faith that my God, creator of thunder, is perfectly able to speak to me, always, regardless of my environment.

UPLIFT
Editor
UPLIFT
1 year ago
Reply to  Glen Evans

Thanks for sharing Glen!

Blessings from team UPLIFT

Teresa
Teresa
1 year ago

This is an interesting article. I actually own a float spa which provides a reduced sensory environment. I absolutely thrive in this silent retreat space.

UPLIFT
Editor
UPLIFT
1 year ago
Reply to  Teresa

Oh yes Teresa, what a delicious way to nurture and nourish your mind, body and soul! 🙂

Blessings,
Team UPLIFT

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