There is good reason to expect loud noise to be harmful. Sounds get our attention because they tell us what is happening nearby and warn us of impending danger. Sounds raise our blood pressure and muscle tension, hormones are produced to raise stress and enable us to take action if needed, to fight or flee. But if we are subject to noise again and again, stress begins to damage our health, causing anxiety and depression.
Regular noise above 50 dB can cause health problems, including sleep disturbance. The World Health Organization recognized such noise as a threat to health in 2018. Several cities have taken steps to reduce the noise that citizens are typically exposed to (eg quieter buses, less aircraft noise at night, barriers around big roads). In Singapore about 70,000 complaints about noise are made to government agencies annually (Straits Times, 25.10.22). There is a case for taxing excessive noise making in the densely populated city.
What can we do individually? There is now good evidence that spending time in a sensory deprivation float tank can be beneficial. It seems, however, that it is essential that this is something you actively want, otherwise the isolation can itself be stressful. But such extreme steps may not be the only method: seeking out quiet in a natural setting, perhaps alongside guided relaxation, may be equally or more helpful.
Does everyone benefit equally from such quiet? Eric Pfeiffer, a researcher in Freiburg, Germany, found that most people do benefit from quiet; comparisons between different types of quiet suggested that periods of silence in natural setting such as a park, combined with music or mediation led by a therapist, was for most people the most beneficial. But some people, perhaps because they were already over-stressed, were unable to benefit from such silence. Further work on managing the stress may be needed before quiet can be helpful to those people. Pfeiffer does not argue for prolonged silence for everyone: even 10 minutes per day may be beneficial to most people.
[See “Shhhhh…” by Kayt Sukel, New Scientist, 13.08.2022]
Dr. Tim Bunn
Consultant Educational Psychologist