Sounds of Silence
Awareness of the dangers of noise pollution is increasing as noise in cities and populations are on the rise. One hundred years ago, silence was part of most people’s days and nights. Not as many people lived in the cities but those who did could also experience a great deal of reduced ambient noise and silence. So much has changed in such a short time, it’s no wonder that we can’t keep up.
The European Environment Agency [EEA] issued a report in 2020 outlining the problem and calling for a variety of measures to be taken to reduce the level of noise in cities. Research shows that noise pollution in cities, in particular environmental noise that accompanies vehicular traffic, can cause long term health problems. Among these, particular focus is on heart disease and sleep disturbance. While direct effects may be measured and identified, unfortunately little is being done to mitigate the amount of noise in cities. It seems clear that this will require a collective effort which most cities do not have the bandwidth to address.
Can noise affect your sleep? That seems obvious. When you think of noise and sleep, it’s likely someone’s snoring or a noisy neighbour that is a hazard to a good night sleep. Why, then, do we continually surround ourselves with noise throughout the whole day? Perhaps this is contributing to poor sleep in more ways than one. It is one thing to have to deal with ambient noise that we cannot control that surrounds us in our busy lives. It is quite another to be the architect of this noise and not realize the ramifications of wall to wall sound.
Silence has multiple benefits that we as a society are increasingly losing sight of. Not only is less noise good for your health, physical and mental, less noise is important for processing and perspective which, if unaddressed, can also lead to nocturnal sleep disturbances.
Consider the noise we choose to wrap ourselves in, whether it be television in the background, constant screen watching, plugging into a continual music soundtrack, we have access to so much noise distraction that it is also affecting our health. Our bodies and brains need silence and quiet to pause and reflect upon our lives and circumstances and make considered choices for our well-being. The stress of life and uncertainty in these choices can lead to a repression of this self-reflection that manifests in other less productive ways.
Avoidance works for only so long. How many times do you find yourself awake in the middle of the night with the really hard questions of your life hitting you at full volume? That is not the time to sort out what is best for you. It is the time to get the sleep you need to face your next day.
Pockets of silence used to be more available on a regular basis before the days of piped in music in public spaces, vehicular noise, construction and airplane noise. More people did find sanctuary in peaceful parks and places of worship like churches where calm reflection is expected, not supressed.
Taking time each day to be in silence not only produces pockets of calm, it is good for your health and reduces blood pressure. This may be achieved by starting with taking just 5 minutes a day to meditate. Take another 5 minutes to consider some of the things that you may be trying to avoid thinking about instead of distracting yourself. It’s much better to confront these things during the day than waking in a cold sweat in the middle of the night.
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