It’s amazing what scientists can learn by accident.
When researchers in North Carolina started exploring how different noises affect the brain, they didn’t expect silence to have much impact at all.
Biologist Imke Kirste at Duke University was conducting an experiment, exposing groups of mice to the sounds of white noise, baby mouse calls, and classical music by Mozart. And a fourth group of mice, a control group, was exposed to two hours of silence—just for comparison.
To her surprise, Imke discovered that the most positive brain changes happened, not in the mice listening to Mozart, but to the control group—the mice listening to nothing at all.
What she had discovered, was that silence gives the brain the best chance of generating new and lasting brain cells in the hippocampus. That’s the area of the brain that deals with memories, learning, and emotions.
Families researcher Dr Justin Coulson says it’s proof that silence is worth pursuing, even for big, noisy families.
How to Create Periods of Silence
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As a dad in a large family himself, Dr Coulson is very aware how hard it is to achieve silence, but he has been intentional about finding ways to create quiet time in the home.
“We just need to switch off from time to time; it really is that simple,” he said. “It’s a lot harder to do because of our habits, but we can create new habits. I like to take my kids camping once a month and we go somewhere screens won’t work. We disappear for 24 or 48 hours and we’re getting that downtime and silence.
“Last night we had everything done at a reasonable hour and so we pulled out some board games, and quietly played for about an hour before bed. Not exactly silence, but it was bliss compared to staring at screens or the chaos of a usual night-time.
“Even listening to a meditation CD, or doing a body scan starting at your toes and working all the way up through your body to the top of your head, and doing that with the children, that sort of silent time is wonderfully refreshing, rejuvenating and restoring.”
He suggests trying some of the following:
- Switch off the TV and screens for a given period of time
- Each day set aside a few minutes of downtime to just sit and ‘be’
- Go for a walk in nature.
- Have a rest-time or quiet-time routine for your children in the afternoon.
- Meditation or prayer