The underestimated importance of silence

15 June 2017, by The Floatworks
The underestimated importance of silence

Can you remember the last time you heard… nothing? When did you last get the chance to take a minute, five minutes, ten minutes to just sit in peace, with no audible distractions? We live in a mad, crazy, busy, loud world – and in a city like London, even the dead of the night is punctuated by sirens and motorbikes blazing past, no matter which postcode you lie your weary head.

In recent features, we’ve looked at how information overload is leaving us disconnected from the world around us, and it’s the same with sound, too. Anything we ‘hear’ is information our brain needs to process, and it too is causing us a constant stress. But just as too much noise can causes tension and stress, silence can have the very opposite effect. And in the last decade or so, the science has been mounting to prove it.

In 2011, the World Health Organisation released a report that made a staggering conclusion: prolonged exposure to noise pollution may lead to high blood pressure, and even be a contributing factor in many heart attacks. For the first time, they seemed to prove what many psychologists have believed for decades: chronic noise can be dangerous.

Since then, further research has detailed how dedicating regular time to silence can treat this unspoken epidemic A study in the journal Heart concluded that two minutes of silence does more to relax the brain than listening to so-called relaxing music, based on changes in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain. But why?

Silence relieves stress and tension
It might seem fairly obvious, but living in a consistently noisy environment is likely to leave you with elevated levels of stress hormones like our old mate cortisol. Reducing our exposure to a constant humdrum relieves that tension and reduces those all-important cortisol levels!

Silence replenishes mental resources
We are bombarding our brain with sensory input 24 hours a day, but when we get away from it all for a few minutes, the brain’s attention centres have the time and resources to restore themselves. Noise pollution can impact motivation, decision making and problem solving, while there are various studies concluding that children exposed to high levels of it – for example those living under flight paths or near busy roads – have lower reading scores and slower development of cognitive and language skills. A famous 2002 study examined the effects of the relocation of Munich airport on local children’s health and cognitive behaviour; alarmingly it concluded that many of them had developed a stress response that caused them to ignore the sound of the airport… as well as stimuli they should be paying attention to, like speech.

And, if we are to believe what Attention Restoration Theory hypotheses – simply that environments of lower sensory input can help restore cognitive function – finding a spot of peace in the city seems ever more essential.

Silence can even help regenerating brain cells
Now this is fascinating: a 2013 study on mice examined how different noises affected brain activity on the critters. They discovered that when exposed to two hours of silence per day, the mice developed new cells in the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for memory, emotion and learning.

When you take all of that into consideration, the benefits of silence are clear. Silence can help refresh and regenerate your brain, regulate your emotions and even reduce stress. All of which makes for a more productive and positive you. So what are you waiting for?! Turn that TV off, trade your headphones for earplugs and seek out your five minutes of peace – your brain will thank you for it!

There is of course one way you can get a bit of peace and quiet in the city. Pop in to our centre in Vauxhall to find out about the benefits of a peaceful, quiet float.