Try noticing what you hear when you first wake up… Do you hear birds chirping? A river flowing? Wind rustling through the trees? Or do you hear the garbage truck outside your window? The sound of your alarm blaring? The hum of your washing machine? Unless you’re lucky enough to live next to a forest or an ocean, it is more than likely that the first things you hear are machine made sounds. Our ancestors spent their lives living in nature and working with the resources that the world around them offered since the beginning of life on Earth. Following the Industrial Revolution, humans are put in a very unique position of having to live and work with machines, and actively seek out nature. We are one of the earliest generations to operate in this way and it can create a lot of confusion in our DNA, which is still hardwired to have more access to nature. Considering that this phenomenon of being detached from nature is so new, scientists are only breaking the surface of learning the effects that this is having on us.
Research gathered from 2020 shows that over 80% of Americans live in urban areas. Here in New York City, completely unaltered, natural areas are virtually impossible to come across. If we do want to find these areas, it is not a very easy task to figure out where to go and then travelling there and back. Although there are many beautiful public parks to take advantage of, they still come with the disturbance of the city.
Studies have been conducted to explore the effect that both artificial and natural sounds can have on our health. Our nervous system responds to these sounds by changing our heart rate. Machine made sounds have been shown to create hyperarousal and put our bodies on high alert. This can lead to insomnia and stress, as well as lessening cognitive performance in children and increasing risk of cardiovascular issues. Interestingly, the opposite effects have been shown when people listen to sounds of nature. People report feeling less stress and agitation. It has also been shown to improve mood and increase attention span.
Many of us already sleep with a white noise machine to drown out unwanted sounds, but not many people have explored the effect of other noise. Noise color is a way to categorize sounds that fall within a certain frequency along a spectrum.
- White Noise is usually recommended for sleeping because it masks any other sounds and includes sounds like a humming fan or the sound of air conditioning.
- Pink Noise is deeper than white noise, and reduces brain waves which leads to a deeper sleep. Pink noise includes steady rain, heartbeat, and rustling leaves.
- Brown Noise is processed in the brain similarly to white noise, but it is deeper than both white and pink noise. Brown noise includes ocean waves crashing, waterfalls, and thunder.
- Black Noise is complete silence.
Some people find it easiest to sleep with no sound, which can be hard to come by, so if you are one of those people, we recommend sleeping with ear plugs. If you have trouble sleeping, here are some ways to experiment with the different sounds and see what works for you...
Involving Nature in an Urban Area
It can feel difficult to get a break from the constant movements of the places around us. If you live in a big city, this can be especially overwhelming. But this doesn’t mean we must entirely remove ourselves from the natural world. You can begin to incorporate natural sounds in your life by substituting a playlist of rain when you would normally listen to music or a podcast. On your commute to work, check out a nature playlist and observe how it affects your day.
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Nature Sounds while Working
An acoustician and musicologist from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute performed an experiment to explore how playing natural sounds in offices affects the workers. They exposed a group of 12 participants to 3 different sounds while the participant was working on a task that required close attention. The sounds were typical office noises with random electrical signals, an office soundscape with a natural mask of running water, and an office soundscape with no mask. They found that the workers that listened to the natural sound were more productive and in overall better moods. Knowing this, we can reevaluate our approach to work and focus. Try working on your patio or simply playing nature sounds while you work and see how it impacts you.
Solfeggio Frequencies while Sleeping
Another way to involve sounds of nature into our lives is to tune in with the ‘heartbeat of the earth’. Earth’s electromagnetic waves resonate at a frequency ranging between 7.86 Hz to 8 Hz. Solfeggio frequencies are specific tones related to Earth’s frequency that can be tuned to harmonize with specific aspects of our DNA. Listening to these frequencies has shown to have positive effects on our bodies. Each frequency holds a different benefit:
- 432 Hz is shown to lower heart rate, and have calming effects
- 396 Hz helps remove subconscious fears, worries, and anxieties
- 528 Hz is shown to have reparative effects and be energizing and healing
- 639 Hz helps balance emotions and elevate mood, as well as promote love and understanding
- 741 Hz helps with problem-solving, cleansing the body, and self-expression
- 852 Hz helps with nervousness and anxiety.
Listen to these frequencies while you sleep to see how it affects the day to come.
Paying More Attention
The simplest way to involve more natural sounds in your life is to simply start paying more attention to them. Our brains often get distracted by the outside world and can ignore the stimuli that we are so accustomed to absorbing. Take more time to be intentional with the things you hear around you and notice how there are natural sounds always around us. Take note of the way your body sounds, how your footsteps hit the floor, how your breathing flows through your body and back out, how it sounds when you crack your knuckles, and see how it helps you become more aware of the natural life around you.
Flower Tea Ritual
Although there are many artificial sounds happening around us at all times, we still create natural sounds with the simple things we do everyday, like making tea! The process of making tea combines various natural elements into one ritual. Start paying more attention to the sound the water makes when you fill your kettle. Then the bubbling sound when it begins to boil. While you pour it into your cup, make note of how it splashes and how the sound changes as the cup becomes more full. To experiment further, put a piece of ice in your tea and listen to how it cracks and pops while melting. And add a spoonful of honey and notice how the spoon hits the cup. By intentionally listening, we practice noticing these sounds and how they make us feel. With this experience, we can seek out more natural sounds in our daily life with the goal of soothing our mind.
Noise has a huge effect on our physical and mental health as humans. We have become so accustomed to ignoring many sounds around us that it is critical for us to take time and be intentional with everything we do, including listening. Next time you feel overwhelmed, try turning on a nature playlist and make yourself some tea and hopefully it helps you as much as it does for us!