Why Silence Is Good for Our Brains

The spiritual renewal of silence is supported by scientific research.

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Posted in , May 18, 2021

Enjoying silence

The sounds of silence are more appealing to some than others. Silence can be a safety zone, a place where we process what’s happening around us and gather energy for wherever the day may take us. Or silence can feel like a void that needs to be filled immediately.

Science is on the side of silence, though, with research supporting it as a crucial ingredient in a healthy brain. This is especially relevant in our noisy world, where we are rarely outside of the noise-generating company of a mobile device, if not other people. 

The hippocampus—the section of the brain that regulates memory, emotion and learning—is the beneficiary of silence, according to several research studies. In one 2013 study, mice who were given two hours of pure silence each day grew new cells—complete with functioning neurons—in their hippocampus regions. 

Other research has shown that noise activates the stress-response functions in our brains, even while we are asleep. Exposure to noise activates the area of the brain called the amygdala to release stress hormones like cortisol into our bloodstream. 

The good news is that the converse is also true—exposure to silence activates the opposite reaction, our nervous system’s “relaxation response.” One study even found a greater calming effect in silence than with relaxing music.

The benefits of silence can be hard to recognize if we are struggling with depression, loneliness and other feelings of isolation. But seeking out silence from a place and purpose of restoration, rejuvenation and renewal can help reframe quietude into a profound, even spiritual pursuit.

So perhaps in this noisy world today, you can find a moment to follow the advice of the medieval Persian poet Rumi: “Listen to silence. It has so much to say.” Your brain will thank you, as will your spirit.

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