Are there quiet lulls in your day, or do you constantly listen to one form of noise or another, from traffic sounds to music to conversation to television? If you can’t recall the last time that you could hear a pin drop, consider choosing to tune out of the usual soundtrack of your life for set periods of time.
“There’s definitely a place and a value for silence, and our opportunities for it in this world are so limited because of the noise that exists, that we don’t get to experience that value very often,” says Les Blomberg, director of the Vermont-based Noise Pollution Clearinghouse.
Over the past 100-plus years, the world has gotten progressively louder, with inventions like cars, airplanes, lawnmowers, and leaf blowers creating noise that affects everyone within earshot. Today, noise is largely a distraction, but thousands of years ago, noise served an important function.
“Loud noise was often a warning that something was wrong, whether it was a baby crying or a person screaming—it elicited a response,” Blomberg says. “Noise was one of the things that triggered our fight-or-flight response… Most of the loud noise we experience today is truly noise… yet our body still responds the [same] way.”
Too much noise isn’t healthy. Noise exposure may have negative effects on your health. One study found that older adults who live closest to airports, who are frequently exposed to the sounds of takeoffs and landings, are significantly more likely to be hospitalized for heart disease than people who live in quieter areas.
“People who experience noisy environments suffer all sorts of health problems, including increased risk of heart attacks, lost productivity, sleep loss, and hearing loss,” Blomberg says. “There have been studies linking everything from obesity to diabetes to a bunch of other health factors to noise.”
That said, there’s plenty you can do even if you live in a noisier area. If you live in one of these areas, you’ll want to be sure to prioritize integrating quiet time in your day. Here’s why it’s important.
Spending time in a quieter environment may have mental health benefits. Hospitals often institute “quiet time” to help their patients rest, but research has shown that a quiet-time environment also helps to lower stress levels among the nurses on duty. And researchers have found that spending time in urban green spaces—which are quieter than city streets—helps people to lower stress levels.
“Birds chirping is definitely different than texts pinging and emails pinging and phones ringing and TV pundits chattering,” says Amy Saltzman, MD, a California-based holistic physician and author of A Still Quiet Place for Athletes. “The sounds in nature can actually be used to bring us back to ourselves more easily than the sounds of daily modern life.”
Find ways to embrace quiet. Quiet time allows you to be alone with your thoughts and take a break from your frazzled routine. You may feel more creative, less tense, and have better focus and attention.
Actively choosing silence over noise can be empowering, calming, and revitalizing. Choosing to look out the window while driving, rather than listening to music or talking on the phone, may help you solve a work problem or think about your relationship in a new way. Try appreciating the sound of a silent room while you prepare dinner instead of using the TV for background noise, or go for a walk in nature by yourself without listening to music or podcasts. You may enjoy the break.
“I do think that it’s really, profoundly helpful, healthy, healing for our bodies, minds, and hearts to have some true silence,” Saltzman says.
Harness your inner peace. Learning how to silence your stream of internal thoughts may provide a new level of quiet. “When I think of creating quiet, I think of that as a step beyond reducing the noise,” Blomberg says. “You create purposeful quiet.”
Mindfulness may help you shut out the chatter in your mind about the past, the future, and other unknowns. It’s preferable to have a quiet external environment, but it’s not necessary.
“It can be really helpful to be able to find our stillness and quietness inside, even when the outside is kind of chaotic,” Saltzman says. “The simplest, easiest way to begin is just to commit to sitting quietly for five minutes… and focusing your attention on the feeling of breathing.”
Practicing mindfulness regularly may help you feel that your life is more peaceful and quiet. You may also notice other benefits.
“The data actually shows that mindfulness decreases stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia,” Saltzman says. “It also increases resilience, sense of meaning, sense of purpose.”
Enjoy noise… sometimes. It’s fine to tune into noise in some situations, as long as you find ways to enjoy silence at other times. Workouts can be an ideal time to shun silence in favor of music.
“Noise gives us a shot of adrenaline which can be helpful,” Blomberg says. “As long as you don’t listen at levels that are harmful to your hearing, listen to loud music on a treadmill if you have to. But don’t live your entire life as if you are on a treadmill.”
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.