Everything we hear makes us feel a certain way ‒ consciously or subconsciously. But can surrounding sounds affect our health? Let’s find out.
How do we perceive sounds?
The sounds we hear are the vibrations coming from the source of sound.
These vibrations enter our outer ear, to which our eardrums start to respond with vibration (or oscillate), too. Three tiny vibrating bones (the hammer, the anvil, the stirrup) are also attached to the eardrum. This trio continues the vibration vibe ‒ now in the inner ear. And then finally, the auditory nerve picks up the vibrations and our brain analyses that information.
Source: Science World
Our brains store the “patterns” of the sounds around us ‒ familiar voices, music, dangerous sounds, and so on. This helps the brain to distinguish familiar sounds from unfamiliar ones faster. In order to hear and understand sounds correctly, both our auditory nerve and the brain should work in tandem. Thus, we hear with our brains, not our ears!
Brainwaves and sounds
We’ve talked about sound vibrations, but did you know that even our brain has its vibrations, too? Well, they’re actually frequencies, but we promise it’s all related.
So there’s this thing called electroencephalography or simply EEG (we won’t even attempt pronouncing it) ‒ it’s the process of measuring specific brainwave frequencies which are associated with different cognitive and emotional states. What’s interesting is that exposure to specific frequencies over a certain period of time will allegedly influence the way we think and feel. Let’s take a look at each of these frequencies and their short descriptions.
There’s five brain frequencies ‒ gamma, beta, alpha, theta and delta:
- Gamma waves have the frequency of 30 hertz (Hz) and up.
The state: Gamma waves are the fastest, they reflect the peak activity of consciousness.
- Beta waves ‒ 12 Hz to 30 Hz.
The state: Beta waves correspond to the state of active wakefulness, when you have to think a lot actively. They contribute to the high release of stress hormones.
- Alpha waves ‒ 8 Hz to 12 Hz.
The state: Alpha waves correspond to the state of the body between sleep and wakefulness or meditation.
- Theta waves ‒ 4 Hz to 8 Hz.
The state: Theta waves correspond to the state of shallow sleep or deep meditation. They are associated with the active state of the hippocampus, the organ of memory.
- Delta waves ‒ 0.5 to 4 Hz.
The state: Delta waves dominate when we fall asleep and continue to dominate in deep sleep.
Healing sound therapy
According to Healthline.com, there are a few different types of sound therapy. However, sound meditation and brain entrainment seem to be the most popular ones.
Sound meditations can be subdivided into guided meditations, meditations with Tibetan or Himalayan singing bowls, chanting meditations. All types of meditation offer such health benefits as stress and pain reduction, decreased anxiety and depression, improved memory and more.
Brain entrainment is most often associated with the auditory phenomenon of binaural beats. It’s when you sit there with your headphones on and two tones with slightly different frequencies are streamed simultaneously in each separate headphone. The main point? Your brain will supposedly alter its own frequency and create the third tone ‒ the difference between the tones you’re hearing. This should help you shift into the emotional state you desire (e.g. relaxation or high concentration states).
There’s evidence that brainwave entrainment reduces anxiety, pain, and symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, but further research is needed. A recent study also shows that there’s nothing unique about the effect binaural beats on the brain.
Listening to your favorite music or a guided meditation will certainly improve your mood, while irritating loud neighbours will make you feel stressed. No particular sound can improve our health dramatically, but sounds can influence our overall state of mind. And with a clear mind, no body suffers.
Check out more articles on sleep health here.