Silence Therapy: The New Wellness Approach

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM; Carrie Lam, MD


For overall health improvement try silence therapyHow much is ‘noise versus silence’ an issue in your daily life? If you’re like most Americans, you’re surrounded by some kind of sound everywhere you turn: cell phones, computers, electronic games of all kinds, music blasting from iPods, the booming of someone’s bass turned up loud as it will go in the car next to you. People have tried to get away from this barrage of sound and noise for many years. Now, the latest movement in the wellness industry is silence therapy. Folks from big name entertainers to common people are seeking ways to shut off the noise and retreat, sometimes literally, from being bombarded over and over again.

But is there any kind of scientific evidence to back up claims of silence therapy gurus that this actually works to your benefit? To answer this question, we have to examine first the impact of noise on our bodies and minds.

An Introduction to Noise

Some significant research has gone into showing the negative effects of noise on people’s physical and psychological well-being. The results have been surprising in some ways, reinforcing what we already know in others.

Noise is measured in decibels. Some people are much more sensitive to noise than this summary would suggest:

  • Fifty decibels – Annoyance begins at a level of approximately 50 decibels in the daytime. This is the level of noise in a fairly quiet residential area.
  • Seventy decibels is more than twice the level of noise than 50. This is the level of noise of a vacuum cleaner in your home. An increase of ten decibels equals about a doubling of the noise level.
  • At 80 decibels, you have the risk of damage to your hearing after eight hours of exposure. This is the level of sound of a garbage disposal in your kitchen or the passing of a freight train at about 15 yards.
  • One hundred decibels is the equivalent of a motorcycle or jackhammer. After eight hours of exposure to this level of noise, you could have serious hearing damage.
  • Over 130 decibels, or the level of noise produced by a military aircraft take-off from an aircraft carrier, you experience pain in your ears. This is approximately 64 times as loud as that of a vacuum cleaner mentioned above.

Not many of us are exposed to the kind of noise over 130 decibels, but the exposure we have from day to day activities and the overall noise in our environment adds up. Many (if not most) people eventually have some hearing loss due to the noisy environment in which they live.

Negative Effects of Noise

Noise is not something you can ignore. If you don’t like something you see, look somewhere else or close your eyes. It’s no longer a problem. If you put something in your mouth that doesn’t taste good, you can spit it out and never order that again.

But what can you do about constant, never-ending noise? Of course, you could buy noise-cancelling headphones (if you can afford them), but do you want to go through life wearing headphones every day, all day?

The physiology of noise is such that we humans attend to it even in deep sleep. Movement of the tiny bones of the ear is transmitted to the cochlea, a snail-shaped formation inside the ear. This structure converts the movement into electrical signals that go first to the amygdala. This brain structure has a lot to do with memory and emotion. As soon as the amygdala is stimulated by sound, it produces cortisol, the stress-fighting hormone, along with other hormones. Essentially, the amygdala responds to loud sounds as a stressor. Because of this, people who live in noisy environments are constantly under stress from that noise.

Silence therapy and the brainNoise, therefore, even at levels below those corresponding to potential damage to hearing, is treated as a danger signal by the brain, even as we sleep. So the body responds with the familiar flight or fight response that occurs with exposure to any stressor.

Some fairly recent research suggested even music, regardless of the type, led to a state of arousal in subjects. This arousal could be measured by changes in the bloodstream and in the circulation of blood to the brain. Even “restful” music led to this arousal state.

The European Heart Journal reported an interesting and alarming study that showed both men and women are more likely to have a higher risk of heart attack when exposed to prolonged noise. Men’s risk increased by 50 percent, while women’s risk increased by an incredible 300 percent!

Reasons for this dramatic increase were said to be the production of stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline in noisy environments. Increased levels of these stress hormones have been linked closely to heart failure, strokes, high blood pressure, and immune issues.

How prevalent is the detrimental effect of noise? In 2001, an estimate was given that up to 12.5 percent of American children between the ages of 6 and 19 years suffered from hearing impairment in one or both ears. Why this damage? Up to 80 percent of school children have personal music players going for long periods of time at significant levels. Regardless of warnings by the manufacturers of these products, there is little if any regulation of this kind of damaging noise. Even from parents.

While temporary exposure to noise at harmful levels can be reversed, the long-term effect of such exposure may not be reversible.

Relationship of Noise and Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS)

With the knowledge of how noise is interpreted by the brain as a stressor, it is relatively easy to see the relationship of noise and AFS. Regardless of the source of the stress, our bodies respond in the same way every time.

Symptoms of Excessive Noise on the Adrenals

Comments like these are common among those with AFS when exposed to excessive noise:

  • I attended a concert and could not fall asleep for days after.
  • The phone rings and I get nervous.
  • Exposure to the sounds at a crowded shopping center makes me tired.
  • I cannot handle the noise from my neighbors even though it is not excessive noise.
  • I live in an apartment and the road noise drives me nuts.
  • I cannot handle rock music of any kind. It gives me the jitters.

Those in advanced stages of AFS are particularly vulnerable to the unsettling effects of sound or noise. The weaker the adrenals, the greater the risk.

Remember that sound is energy in selected frequency. Excess frequency bombardment faced by our body trigger increased cellular movement and vibration at rest. Cortisol release from the adrenal glands is needed to neutralize and stabilize such disruption to normal cellular function. Excessive vibration at the cellular level caused by excessively loud sound also can lead to increased cellular metabolism and that in turn can lead to increased reactive metabolites from such metabolism.

A weak body may not be able to clear excess metabolites out of the body on a timely basis. This can lead to a state of reactive metabolite overload (RMO), and in severe cases a host of bodily reactions tied to reactive metabolite response. Liver congestion and extra cellular matrix pollution may worsen.

Symptoms of excessive noise pollution and intolerance can include:

  • Startling effect
  • Increased fatigue
  • Adrenal crashes
  • Adrenaline rushes
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased yawning
  • Hypoglycemia episodes
  • A general sense of nervousness

Avoiding excessive exposure to noise and putting oneself in a quiet environment, therefore, can go a long way toward avoiding noise generative disruptions to a body already experiencing adrenal fatigue.

The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Model

Conventionally trained healthcare professionals tend to view illness from a symptom-focused standpoint. That is, they deal with individual symptoms of illness rather than the root cause of the symptoms.

Healthcare professionals, much of the time alternative and functional medicine professionals, who adopt the viewpoint of the NEM model look at illness conditions very differently. Rather than focus on symptoms, they look at organ systems in order to discover the root causes of symptoms. This more comprehensive outlook is a better way of remediating illness conditions.

How silence therapy affects the NEM modelThe NEM model proposes a series of organ systems that operate in an interdependent way. What affects one system, affects others as well. So that, in the case of noise effects, the stimulation of the hormone response system leads to stimulation of the cardionomic system. This is the system that has to do with the cardiovascular system.

Research indicates the hormones involved in noise stimulation also have an effect on the neuroaffective response system. This system deals with mental or emotional responses to stress. Depression, anxiety, and other mental/emotional responses result.

Evaluating illness conditions from this viewpoint leads to a more effective and efficient attempt at remediating the symptoms brought on by noise or any other source of stress.

Effects of Silence Therapy

People are willing to pay large amounts of money to retreat from their noisy environments and experience the benefits of silence therapy. These retreats may last from a few hours to a couple of months for the most staunch adherents to the concept of silence therapy.

But what does the science say about these benefits? There have been studies that suggest potentially great benefits.

One study from Duke University produced results that were unexpected, to say the least. The researchers were studying whether the calls of baby mice would produce more growth of brain cells in adults. Instead, the silence which was used as a control in the experiment actually stimulated more growth of brain cells. Two hours of daily silence prompted the growth of cells in the hippocampus, the brain structure involved in the formation of memory.

Other researchers have confirmed this finding. In addition, these other researchers also found silence to be the factor that allowed these cells to differentiate into functioning neurons. Thus, silence therapy can be beneficial to your brain functioning.

Still, other researchers discovered a completely different neuronal pathway in the auditory cortex that fires when silence begins. This pathway soon stops firing as the silence lengthens, also. This pathway is different from but similar to the one that fires when noise stimulation is heard. This second pathway also stops firing as noise continues.

While silence therapy apparently stimulates the development of cells in the hippocampal region of the brain, none of the noise stimuli do the same other than having a temporary neurological effect. This suggests the power of silence to be great.

The evidence is strong that silence therapy will decrease the production of stress hormones and thus decrease the risk of the brain interpreting it as a stressor. Reactive metabolite generation is also reduced as cellular metabolism is normalized instead of being put in a hyperactive mode.

Benefits of Silence Therapy

Besides the scientific evidence for silence therapy and its benefits, here are some specific benefits you can realize from it:

Better Memory

With the stimulation of the hippocampus to grow new cells that then can become neurons, you’ll experience an increase in your memory once you begin the process of using silence therapy. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study in 2011 that showed walking for 40 minutes three times a week stimulated adults’ hippocampus to grow new cells with the attendant increase in memory.

Stress Relief

Research has shown the impact of noise can lead to the release of stress hormones that have a negative effect on your heart and circulation. A study published in Heart in 2006 showed two minutes of silence can lead to a release of tension in both the body and brain.

Sleep Better

Silence therapy and sleepOnly a few minutes of silence daily can improve sleep, especially in insomniacs. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015 showed improved sleep for older adults when they practiced mindfulness meditation. The subjects reported less trouble going to sleep, less depression, and less fatigue.

Mindfulness meditation is a form of relaxation in which you pay attention to breathing and focusing on what is going on right now. This keeps your thoughts from literally getting away from you and bringing tension.

Increases Your Senses

Getting away from speaking or doing anything that creates noise will increase or heighten your senses of smell, vision, thinking, and emotion.

Learn To Deal With Challenges

Too often, when faced with life’s challenges, we tend to talk them to death. Or to lean on others for help or solutions. Many times, utilizing silence therapy will allow us to open our minds to the problem-solving ability within us. By clearing our minds of the clutter of daily life, solutions are freed to come to us from our unconscious.

Recharge Yourself

Just like a battery, your overall system – mind and body – sometimes requires a recharge. Unplugging yourself from the daily barrage of stressors will help you with this recharging. Doing this will let your mind rest. It is a way to turn off the internal noise all of us experience in our world. Daily thinking about all we have to do and all that is going on around us depletes our energy to the point of exhaustion at times. Everyone needs this kind of retreat within ourselves to recharge.

Decrease Fear and Anxiety

Research has shown that meditation, a form of silence therapy, leads to lower brain cell volume in the amygdala, the brain structure involved in emotion. This, in turn, leads to less fear and anxiety. Along with this decrease in cell volume in the amygdala will also come an increase in concentration and attention while you’re meditating. Of course, this makes your meditation deeper, increasing the positive effects on the amygdala.

Boost Your Creativity

Boosting creativity with silence therapyMuch of the time when you’re trying to be creative, you’re going over and over old information, trying to put it together in a new way. This isn’t really creative. All too often it is simply “brain chatter.” Using silence therapy is a way to turn off the brain chatter and allow your true creativity to emerge.

Learn To Trust Yourself

Getting in touch with your deeper self and the creativity there through silence therapy will increase your trust in yourself. Many people believe others know more than they do. Accessing what you have deep inside will show you the knowledge and ability that is there. Much of the time, this knowledge and ability are covered over by feelings of insecurity. Learning about yourself can brush aside these feelings and allow your creativity and solutions to show themselves.

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Silence therapy is the latest wellness approach that appears to show effectiveness in helping people handle stress. It tends to lower blood pressure, slow heart rate, and stimulate the brain to produce more cells that then can function as neurons. This increases your mental acuity.


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