Wherever you are, you are surrounded by a soundscape. Soundscapes are inescapable. Every place has one and you are always in one. Each is unique to a specific location and it changes by the minute. Much like how a landscape describes the view of all the land around you, a soundscape describes the audio of all the sounds around you. If you close your eyes, you can paint a picture of your surroundings based on sound.
People wither physically and mentally without nature. We have known for years that natural light and views of nature can profoundly benefit humans. We are now learning that the same applies to sound. Hearing is primal. We can’t turn sound off. Even if we use earplugs – we can still ‘hear’ the silence. Sound affects us physiologically and psychologically in very powerful ways. Chief among them is it that it affects how we sleep.
Sleep is highly important for health in terms of recovery and is essential for learning and forming memories. While you are sleeping, you are unconscious, but your brain and body functions are still active. They are doing a number of important jobs that help you stay healthy and function at your best. So when you don’t get enough quality sleep, it does more than just make you feel tired. It can affect your physical and mental health, thinking, and daily functioning.
Neurologically, even as the body is seemingly resting, the mind is quite active during sleep. The mind unconsciously processes thoughts previously dismissed or, put aside as afterthoughts that occurred throughout the active, wakeful experience of the day. Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to decrease several important cognitive abilities such as creative and flexible thinking, planning, and effective communication. Therefore, one of the simplest ways to maintain your cognitive abilities, is to ensure that you get enough sleep.
Sleep, Where Art Thou?
Estimates of prevalence of sleep disorders range from 30-40 % of all adults, with a subset of individuals experiencing severe daytime effects from insomnia. These reduce focus and concentration at work, as well as increase probability of accidents. They are also connected to a wide range of health problems including severe medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression. Sleep medication may provide easy relief but interest in non-medical ways to support sleep quality is growing. Recent evidence from research shows that music or the correct soundscape holds great promise in treatment of sleep disorders.
Listening to music is a widely used tool to improve sleep. In an online survey in a general population 62% (out of 651 respondents) stated to have at least once used music to help them sleep. In a survey in over 500 patients with sleep disorders, over 50% reported to use music as sleep aid.
People who are constantly disturbed by noise can be said to suffer from ‘noise annoyance’. The Guardian describes this as ‘the negative feelings noise can create such as disturbance, irritation, dissatisfaction and nuisance, as well as a feeling of having one’s privacy invaded’. This can, therefore, exaggerate the symptoms of mental illness as well as contributing to it.
Listening to music has also been shown to help reduce anxiety in cancer patients starting radiation treatments and may help them cope with the side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea. The emotional benefits of music therapy experienced by people with depression often apply to people with cancer as well, many of whom may experience symptoms of depression at some point after receiving a diagnosis, while they are undergoing treatment, or even once they are in remission.
How Does Sound Affect Us?
Sound affects humans in four main ways:
Physiologically: Sound can alter our heart rate, breathing rhythms, hormone secretions and brainwaves.
Psychologically: Hearing different noises can change our mood.
Cognitively: Sound affects our productivity and how much we can accomplish
Behaviourally: The ability to hear is a primary warning sense for us and has an important effect on what we do and where we do it.
What Are The Mechanisms Through Which Music Listening Improves Sleep?
According to an article in the SyncProject – this question remains unresolved, but researchers have put forth a number of suggestions and hypotheses. For instance, scientists propose that the improvement in sleep could stem from the effects that music listening has on emotions and emotion-related physiology: Music listening has been connected to activation of brain areas important for pleasure and reward, and listening to soothing music has been shown to lower arousal, with subsequent decrease in heart rate and blood pressure.
Another way that music may influence sleep is through altering the release of hormones. For instance, music listening has been found to increase the release of endogenous opioids and oxytocin. Oxytocin is called the “cuddle hormone” and it is important for functions related to intimacy, reproduction and bonding. Endogenous opioids are the body’s own painkillers, functioning much like the opioids that are used in medicine. The release of these two hormones during music listening decrease stress, and experiences of physical as well as emotional pain, which may be at the root of some cases of sleep disorders.
Masking Noise With The Sounds Of Nature
Finding that ideal background soundscape could potentially help to promote better rest. The ability to hear music depends on a series of steps that convert sound waves coming into the ear into electrical signals in the brain. As the brain interprets these sounds, a cascade of physical effects are triggered within the body. Many of these effects either directly promote sleep or reduce issues that interfere with sleep.
Several studies suggest that music enhances sleep because of its effects on the regulation of hormones, including the stress hormone cortisol. Being stressed and having elevated levels of cortisol can increase alertness and lead to poor sleep. Listening to music decreases levels of cortisol, which may explain why it helps put people at ease and release stress.
Natural sounds relax you because
they are constant noises of a pleasant pitch.
When listening to natural sounds, the brain connectivity reflected an outward-directed focus of attention; when listening to artificial sounds, the brain connectivity reflected an inward-directed focus of attention, similar to states observed in anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. There was also an increase in rest-digest nervous system activity (associated with relaxation of the body) when listening to natural compared with artificial sounds, and better performance in an external attentional monitoring task.
Find Joy And Connection In Music
Turn your home into a tranquil and calming environment so you can reap the benefits of a rested mind and body.
Here are some tips to remember when searching for your ideal soundscape:
- Slow-paced sounds tend to relax
- Fast-paced sounds tend to stimulate
- Stochastic sounds, such as rainfall or coffee shop noise, are useful for working
- To avoid being distracted, you may want to choose soundscapes which include conversations, running streams, ocean waves and even birds or cricket chirping
A 2012 study explains that calming water sounds, regarded as non-threatening noises, are blocked out by the brain. On the other hand, sounds of abrupt threats like a helicopter approaching or a telephone ringing could jolt people awake. This is why sounds of rushing water paired with cozy home lighting and furniture is a good ambient sound to have at home. It easily relaxes your mind, putting on a sort of a “vacation mode.”
Apart from water, it would also be nice to have a collection of calming sounds from nature to help your body and mind slow down. The sound of falling rain or waterfalls crashing down are also very comforting. No wonder people find it very hard to get up during bad, “under the covers”, weather. The sound of chirping birds in the wild or the gush of wind in the forest takes you to another place, like a dreamland of sorts. These calming sounds are nature’s way of telling us to take it easy.
Modern sound systems are combining sight, sound, science, and biophilia to create a multisensorial experience that can be customized for different kinds of environments, matching the sound spread by the speakers with a visual sensation. Some systems can even monitor the evolution of the acoustic dynamics in the environment and consequently adjust dynamically the volume of the speakers in order to create an acoustic shield against the surrounding distractions, especially the human voices, typical of the open-space settings. Thus, the machine “listens” to the ambient noise in your area, and then adjusts its volume as necessary to help protect your sleep.
The ability to create a soothing, peaceful environment for you and your family is priceless. Don’t let noise take its toll on your mental and physical well being or allow it to induce physiological and psychological stress. Create your soundscape and gently immerse yourself in that wonderful state of calm and tranquility.
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