Science Says Silence is Vital for Our Brains

By Azriel ReShel on Wednesday March 3rd, 2021

The Proof that Silence Heals

The value of silence is felt by everyone at some point in their life. Silence is comforting, nourishing and cosy. It opens us up to inspiration and nurtures the mind, body and soul. Meanwhile, the madness of the noisy world is drowning out our creativity, our inner connection and hampering our resilience. Science is now showing that silence may be just what we need to regenerate our exhausted brains and bodies.

Studies show that noise has a powerful physical effect on our brains, causing elevated levels of stress hormones. Sound travels to the brain as electrical signals via the ear. Even when we are sleeping these sound waves cause the body to react and activate the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with memory and emotion, leading to the release of stress hormones. So, living in a consistently noisy environment will cause you to experience extremely high levels of these harmful hormones.

Interestingly, the word noise is said to come from the Latin word nausia, (disgust or nausea) or the Latin word noxia, meaning hurt, damage or injury. Noise has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, tinnitus and loss of sleep. We’ve all experienced the detrimental effects of noise pollution. Excessive noise can be a major affront to the physical senses and today, more and more people are identifying as highly sensitive and unable to function in chaotic and noisy environments. But now science has the proof not only that noise hurts, but also that silence heals.

The Effects of Silence

In 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) examined and quantified its health burden in Europe. It concluded that the 340 million residents of Western Europe (about the population of the United States), were losing a million years of healthy life every year, due to noise. WHO also said that the root cause of 3,000 heart disease deaths was due to excessive noise. A study by Professor Gary W. Evans from Cornell University, published in Psychological Science, charted the effects of airport noise on school children near Munich’s airport. The study showed that children exposed to noise developed a stress response which actually caused them to ignore the noise. He found that the children ignored both the harmful noise of the airport, along with other more everyday noises, such as speech.

This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise–even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage–causes stress and is harmful to humans. – Professor Gary Evans.

The brain responds to silenceThe brain recognises silence and responds powerfully. Image: Johannes Plenio

Scientists didn’t actively set out to study the effects of silence but instead discovered its benefits by accident. Silence first began to appear in scientific research as a control or baseline, against which scientists compare the effects of noise or music. Physician Luciano Bernardi studied the physiological effects of noise and music in 2006, making a startling discovery. When the subjects of his study were exposed to the random stretches of silence in between the noise and music, they experienced a powerful effect. The two-minute pauses were far more relaxing for the brain than the relaxing music or the longer silence that was in place before the experiment started. In fact, Bernardi’s ‘irrelevant’ blank pauses became the most important aspect of the study. One of his key findings was that silence is heightened by contrasts.

Many meditation teachers and practitioners can attest to this, and spiritual teachers advise students to take frequent meditative pauses throughout the day. Though we may think of silence as a lack of input, science says otherwise. The brain recognises silence and responds powerfully. Later research by a Duke University regenerative biologist, Imke Kirste, discovered that two hours of silence per day prompted cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region related to the formation of memory, involving the senses.

Taking Time to Switch Off

According to the Attention Restoration Theory, when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input, the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. With our digital world, our brains get less time to switch off. We are constantly processing enormous amounts of information. Research has shown the constant demands of modern life are placing a lot of stress on our prefrontal cortex–the part of the brain responsible for making decisions, solving problems and more. When we spend time alone in silence, our brains are able to relax and release this constant focus.

Researchers found that silence helps new cells to differentiate into neurons and integrate into the system, and that when we experience silence, our brains are able to work at better understanding our internal and external environments. We can make sense of our lives and gain perspective, something that is vital for our overall wellbeing.

While noise creates stress, silence relieves stress and tension in the brain and body. Silence is replenishing and nourishes our cognitive resources. Noise makes us lose our concentration, cognitive powers and causes decreased motivation and brain functioning (as backed up by research into the effects of noise), but studies show that spending some time in silence can amazingly restore what was lost through exposure to excessive noise. The ancient spiritual masters have known this all along; silence heals, silence takes us deeply into ourselves, and silence balances the body and mind. Now science is saying the same thing.

The healing benefits of nature and stillness are well documented, but now we can add to this quest for health and wellbeing, the nourishment of our brains. The simple yet ancient experience of silence could be just the healing balm we need to quell our crazy modern lifestyle.

Silence is an empty space. Space is the home of the awakened mind. – Buddha


What is your relationship with silence? Has this article changed or affirmed your own feelings about it? We would love to hear your thoughts, and experiences with silence in the comments below.

With love and quiet peace,

Azriel ReShel

Writer, Editor, Yoga Teacher & Healing Facilitator




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17 Responses to Science Says Silence is Vital for Our Brains

  1. Very cool article, I need to take this advice. Lately, I started to feel very tired and I needed some kind of solution, here it is. From tomorrow I will practice silence as a stress treatment.

  2. IM am also interested in the different levels of silence: not saying much is one thing; being internally and essentially quiet – during/after say a meditation or perhaps Yoga is another and is kind of where this article is at(?)…
    And then there is the complete Silence of the ‘Me’ – wherein we have genuine spiritual experiencing… that is at another level altogether…
    Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote beautifully on this

  3. Hmm.. As the Buddha implies in that final quote at the end there, our truest nature is itself Silence…
    I don’t think we need scientific studies to know how silence is good for the brain…it is there in all our experience, more or less…
    Clearly it is, it is self-evident the rich, fecund, alive quality when our mind is quieter and is more sensitive, aware (and intelligent, near the Source of itself)

  4. Something about the absence of human noise is restorative. Then I can hear my own heart et soul with only the sounds of Mother Nature….rain, wind, birds, trees.

  5. Je suis très sensible au bruit. Pour moi, même une belle musique devient du bruit si je suis fatiguée physiquement, psychiquement… Par contre des sons de la nature, vent, pluie, ruisseau, oiseaux…sont proches du silence. Ecouter le silence m’aide à retrouver le silence de l’esprit. Mon esprit s’expand dans le silence.

  6. Thank you for posting. It re-affirms what we have learnt through practicing and teaching Deep Listening, as evolved by Warren Ziegler. His first dictum for walking to the path to Deep Listening: “Be silence.” In fact, as many teachers of meditation also know, achieving that inner silence – BEING silence – can actually drown out the noise signals from outside.

  7. wow beautiful sharing and silence is a true gift Ourlizard brains are wired to resist silence and moves into planning and following through it likes the familiar. GET MORE DONE IN LESS TIME.give your mind a clear blueprint of what you want. It is absolutely available to you, the universe wants you to enjoy the very best life REPEAT!!!!!!
    I am a certified hypnotherapist, My sesion is designed around you — for you — to get the best out of you. This invitation can be your golden ticket to life-changing success. superhuman levels of self esteem and confidence. Masterfully practice silence everyday.

    Need disappears when you are in the world of magic and miracles. Familiarity is following spirit, exploration of excitement and joy in every moment. You see yourself as a tiny speck on the screen of life which radiates to the Universe.https://www.facebook.com/sylvia.c.martin.7

  8. In the past christmasholidays I once again experienced a very quiet neighbourhood when visiting my parents. During those 3 weeks no sleepingpills were necessary…
    Back in my worktown…other story again..
    The curfew due to Covid between 10.00 pm and 5.00 am was also very welcoming to me. It did something big.
    Quiet times definetely rearrange and heal something in the brain.
    Be blessed all of you.

  9. Wonderful confirmation of my own experience of silence. At the end of the day I love to lie down and breathe and relish the sound of silence. Thank you and lots of love to you all

    • Mmm… sounds divine Faye! Glad you experience the nourishing benefits of silence regularly 🙂 Thanks for reading.

      Team UPLIFT

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