Imagine how quiet life was for most of human evolution. Before mechanization, cities and transportation, sounds were heard—not noise. For most of us, the sounds of nature—songbirds, the sound of trees moving in the breeze, squirrels dashing about, deer walking—are heard far too rarely. Most often, we are battling to ignore noise, the unwanted or harmful sounds that surround so many of us. Excessive noise damages our health on all levels—mentally, physically and emotionally.
The first semester of my freshman year in college, I was placed in a typical dormitory. I made lots of friends, loved my classes, loved school—but the noise in the dormitory nearly drove me crazy. I was social, but when I wanted to sleep or study or just relax, I did so with difficulty because the noise was constant. The noise actually made me cry at times. By the end of the semester, I had a severe case of bronchitis and was exhausted.
The following semester, I moved into the twenty-four hour quiet dorm. I loved it! All my friends were in the other dorms and I would go to them when I wanted to play. My room was a haven; it was quiet and peaceful and I could enjoy the quiet anytime.
Loss of hearing is the direct result of noise. Studies have proven that the people who live in cultures that have little noise have far superior hearing than those in cities. For example, a study found that West Africans in their seventies had hearing superior to Londoners in their twenties.
In addition to hearing loss, a complex and growing list of ills is blamed on noise. Excessive noise contributes to high blood pressure, headaches, tension, hyperactivity, poor digestion, ulcers, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, decreased immunity, neurological disorders, disturbed sleep, irritability, lack of concentration, moodiness, poor work performance, and mental disturbance.
Comparison of Sound Levels
- In the forest, the average sound level is 15- 20 decibels (db).
- On a farm, the average sound level is 30-35 db.
- In the suburbs and small towns, the average sound level is 35-45 db.
- In cities, the average sound level is 45-75 db.
- Exposure to 85 db and over usually results in permanent hearing loss.
- Electric shaver is 85 db.
- Chain saw is 100 db.
- Motorcycle is 100 db.
- Live rock concert is 90-130 db.
- Jet engine at take-off is 120-140 db.
While avoiding excessive noise is impossible for most of us, there are things you can do to protect yourself:
- Avoid indoor noise when possible. Run the dishwasher when out of the room, for example.
- Wear an ear protection device when using noisy equipment. Ear protection devices can be purchased at hardware stores, in catalogs or pharmacies. Hardware stores carry padded earphones that are comfortable enough to sleep in, less obtrusive devices that fit inside your ear can be found at a pharmacy.
- Wear an ear protection device for noisy commutes or anytime you need quiet.
- Listen to soothing music with a headset and a portable music machine.
- Before buying a new home, check out the neighborhood for high levels of noise—airport, trains, busy roads.
- Plant trees or a fence on property to diminish noise.
- Use abundant insulation, seal cracks, weather strip windows and install double pane windows.
- Place padding under noisy equipment like blenders.
- Soft furnishings, rugs, carpets and wall hangings help to reduce sound. Hard, non-porous surfaces reflect sound.
- Increase healing sounds—birds, chimes, bells, music, streams, indoor or outdoor waterfalls or fountains.