WHY IS SILENCE GOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN?
Brain is, without any argument, the most important organ of our body. We depend on brain to ensure better performance of all useful activities, be it related to our jobs or household chores. Some of the important functions of brain include memory, reasoning, judgment, language, calculation, etc. Having understood the importance of brain and its functions, it is equally important to understand the measures needed to take good care of the brain.
Nutritious diet, regular physical activity, freedom from stress and anxiety, sound & adequate sleep, regular brain “exercises” (solving crossword puzzles, Sudoku, etc), preventing head injury and avoiding smoking, are important measures that ensure good brain health.
The purpose of this article is to emphasize the important role played by silence in the wellbeing of brain. Who has not heard this- “If speech is silver, silence is gold”!
In our daily lives, we are surrounded by different kinds of noise and sounds most of the time. These include sound of vehicles, loud music, ringing of smartphones, and so on. This “noise pollution” has a detrimental effect on our brain and body. Various research studies have shown that exposure to noise leads to higher incidence of elevated blood pressure, which is an important risk factor for heart attacks and brain strokes. Noise pollution also causes impairment of hearing; sleep disturbances, and problems with memory and concentration. Studies have concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.
If noise has so much of adverse effects on brain, silence should have just the opposite effect- and it is indeed so.
1. Silence leads to lowering of heart rate and blood pressure. This effect on BP lowering is seen with as little as two minutes of silence. Lowering the BP would lead to a lesser incidence of brain strokes.
2. Silence is relaxing and rejuvenating. In this 24X7 work environment with exposure to various sounds, our brain gets muddled and then, we cannot focus and concentrate. Therefore, we need periods of quiet and calm to allow our brains to recharge. Some people use music to relax. While music does relax the brain, it is interesting to note that silence has far greater effects on brain relaxation than music.
3. Silence promotes better sleep. We have all experienced the difficulties in falling or maintaining good sleep, when exposed to sounds or noise. In silent environment, on the other hand, sleep is sound and relaxing. Better sleep translates into better functioning of brain. Growth hormone is secreted in brain during sleep. Consolidation of memory and learning also occurs during sleep. Good sleep is also a stress buster and lowers BP.
4. Silence may improve memory. In an interesting experiment conducted on mice, it was found that exposing them to two hours of silence per day led to development of new neurons in the hippocampus area of the brain. Hippocampus is mainly involved in memory, emotion and learning. So, there is a high possibility that these brain functions would improve, if one is exposed to even short periods of silence on daily basis.
5. Silence is a stress buster. When a person is stressed and anxious, one of the best and easiest quick fixes is to take rest (sit or lie down) in complete silence. While it may be tempting to get a counseling done by a family member or a psychologist for stress, it is equally important to have periods of silence to overcome stress.
6. Silence improves our ability to concentrate and focus. In our daily lives, we are constantly exposed to stimuli- sounds as well as sights. This makes our brains foggy and inattentive, leading to difficulty in concentrating. In this situation, the ability to solve problems or to come up with new ideas is greatly hampered. Silence, even for short periods, comes to our rescue in this condition. Silence makes the brain fresh and energetic. One can solve complex problems and come up with bright new ideas after a brief period of silence.
7. Silence helps us tap the hidden talents and strengths in our own brain. Brain has immense capacity and resources, which largely remain untapped. This is because one cannot look deep inside his brain, when exposed to distractions of sounds/noise. On the other hand, in a silent environment, one can daydream, fantasise or think and be more creative. As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”
8. Silence reduces the risk of heart attacks and brain strokes by reducing plaque formation in the arteries.
All these beneficial effects of silence on brain should prompt us to seek silence everyday in our busy lives, even if it is for a brief period. Moreover, sitting in silence is free, easily accessible, and has no side effects.
This article was modified and published in September 2016 issue of B POSITIVE magazine, a heath and wellness magazine.
DR SUDHIR KUMAR MD DM (NEUROLOGY)
APOLLO HOSPITALS, HYDERABAD