Noise and silence: why we need 10 minutes of no sound every day

Noise and silence: why we need 10 minutes of no sound every day

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The word noise comes from the Latin nausea, which translates as “nausea”, “wound”, “seasickness”, “injury”.

And the word fully justifies its translation – noise is detrimental to human health, both physical and mental. We all need silence, but due to the rhythm of modern life, it is almost impossible to find it. Together with scientists, we tell why it is still worth trying.

Cars and planes

Noise no higher than 65 decibels is considered harmless to human health, although the World Health Organization has set the maximum allowable level at 85 decibels: sounds above this threshold are harmful to health. For example: the sound of an airplane flying in the sky is 80 decibels, a motorcycle passing by – 94, and a working vacuum cleaner – 85. Such noise is called excessive.

Epidemiologists have found a direct link between excessive noise and high blood pressure. Constant exposure to such noise can also lead to serious brain and kidney disease. Other studies have found links between noise and insomnia, heart problems, and hearing loss. People who live in places that are noisy all the time have higher stress hormone levels than others.

Modern hospitals are much noisier than they used to be. With the use of new technologies and modern devices, the noise level in the treatment rooms and wards, which are intended for the recovery of patients, has increased, and it significantly exceeds the norm. According to the European Environment Agency 2019, up to 10,000 people die every year in Europe due to noise stress. The agency is urging cities to reduce outside noise, even though this is nearly impossible. In recent years, all major cities in France are required to publish a “city noise map”. Thanks to her, it turned out that in terms of noise level, Paris ranks third in the world after Beijing and Mexico City.

Noise can harm not only physical but also mental health – reduce the level of concentration and impair memory. A study was conducted in which scientists observed students in grades 3 and 4 who attended a school located near Munich Airport. Then the airport building was moved to another location, so the scientists could compare the data. The study found that long-term memory and reading skills in children were significantly worse when they went to school near the airport, and when the building was moved, these indicators improved.

“Noise, even relatively harmless to hearing, is stressful and detrimental to people. Those who live outside the city for a long time, returning to the metropolis, usually experience acute discomfort. For them, the city atmosphere itself is unbearable – not only polluted air, but also energy, eternal haste and hustle. And this is quite understandable: it is unnatural and unhealthy for a person to constantly live and work in such a noisy environment, ”says Cornell University professor Gary W. Evans.

Household noise and work

Fortunately, not all residents of large cities live near airports or highways. But they are not completely safe either, since not only excessive noise is harmful. Most of us constantly hear noise, which is associated with various distractions. Colleagues talking, phone calls, smartphone notifications, street sirens, and even the screams of children playing in the playground near your home or office are all distractions while you work. Such noise impairs productivity and slows down mental activity.

Modern Western companies – especially those whose offices are large open spaces – are gradually starting to introduce new rules: for several hours a day, employees are asked not to talk to each other and turn off the sound on mobile phones. And more and more companies are allowing their employees to work from home for a while, in silence. The positive effect of this was noticed thanks to the pandemic, when thousands of companies around the world switched to remote work – and many noted an increase in the productivity of their employees.

Ollie Campbell, director and founder of Milanote, an Australian creative app developer, decided to take a similar approach to his team. He also introduced “quiet times” during working hours. The goal was to improve the concentration and efficiency of employees and the company’s income. The result was not long in coming: after a few months, the level of creativity of the employees increased, and the team began to work much faster. And after a few years of implementing quiet times, Milanote’s productivity increased by 23%. According to Campbell, employees have become calmer, and the company’s income has increased significantly.

Of course, far from always and everywhere there is an opportunity to get rid of the noise – not all companies support remote work or are ready to introduce hours of silence. But if you get an opportunity (however rare) to spend time in silence, it is worth taking advantage of. It is useful for both creative and productive thinking. If you work in an office, find a space where you can have at least five minutes of privacy. Don’t take your phone with you – just sit back and close your eyes. If you do this simple exercise several times every day, then in a week you will be able to notice a positive effect.

Silence allows the brain to rest, and rest, in turn, improves intellectual performance. This was proved by Dr. Luciano Bernardi, who in one of his experiments compared the effect of different types of music and silence. He found that two-minute pauses between songs are more relaxing than calm music or even a quiet environment before the experiment. It turns out that the effect of silence is enhanced by the contrast with the noise.

And more good news: A 2013 study showed that two hours of silence a day helped generate new cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is associated with memory. In other words: silence can make us a little smarter.

How to create silence at home

Periodic silence is important not only for productivity at work, but also for the quality of life in general. We are so accustomed to noise that sometimes we feel uncomfortable in silence. We eat breakfast and watch the news, cook dinner and listen to audiobooks or podcasts, and even go for a run with our favorite music on our headphones. But this is a matter of habit. Try going outside before bed and walking around the house without a player. The first time it will be uncomfortable, but the second or third time the body will get used to it, and you will be able to enjoy the sound of leaves and the singing of birds. If it’s noisy and crowded near the house and you don’t particularly walk in silence, we recommend that you go out into nature at least once a week.

If you do not live alone, then you can organize an evening of silence at least once a week at home. Agree with your family that, for example, on Tuesday evenings, silence should reign in your apartment. Involve all family members in this. Instead of watching TV or listening to music, you can find quiet activities that everyone can enjoy – primarily, of course, reading. But this is not the most ideal option, because while reading, the brain still does not relax. You can lie down on the sofa with the whole family and just be silent for five minutes – silence in a familiar place has an extremely positive effect on a person.

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