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How Silence Affects Our Brains in A Good Way, Science Explains

How Silence Affects Our Brains in A Good Way, Science Explains

In a world that’s increasingly busy and loud, silence sells. Like clean water, silence is a resource, and can, in fact, be used as a selling point. Consider, your laptop that runs without a peep, meditation retreats, holiday getaways to remote locations, or those noise canceling headphones. Silence is the glue that binds them together.

Silence Has Been Studied by Accident

Over the years, research has emphasized how silence can calm our bodies, improve our connection with the world and actually increase the “noise” of our inner thoughts, with the majority of the research focusing on noise when coming to these conclusions, not silence.

Yes, most researchers have studied silence by accident. For instance, in a 2006 Study, where the physiological effects of music were studied, Luciano Bernardi said the following in Nautilus:

“We didn’t think about the effects of silence. That was not meant to be studied specifically.”

Nevertheless, what were the effects of silence on our brains in these studies?

Two Minutes of Silence Heightened Arousal

In the aforementioned study, Bernardi observed physiological metrics for two dozen subjects when they listened to six songs. According to Bernardi:

“During almost all sorts of music, there was a physiological change compatible with a condition of arousal.”

But what was even more surprising, was what happened when there were silent pauses – two minutes of silence proved far more relaxing than peaceful music or a longer silence played before the experiment started. One of his main findings – silence is heightened by contrasts – is supported by Neurological research, in a study by Michael Wehr in 2010.

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Silence Affects Our Auditory Cortex

The 2010 study by Michael Wehr who was observing the brains of mice during short bursts of sound produced some surprising results. Whilst a burst of sound causes the auditory cortex (that part of the brain responsible for processing sound information), to light up, silence also causes a change. A separate network of neurons in the auditory cortex fire up. Wehr says:

“When a sound suddenly stops, that’s an event just as surely as when a sound starts.”

What though happens the moment the auditory cortex fires up?

How Silence Affects our Auditory Cortex: Cell Development

This question was examined by a Duke University regenerative Biologist, Imke Kirste. In the 2013 study, she was analyzing the effects sound has on the brains of adult mice. Four groups of mice were exposed to different auditory stimuli: music, baby mouse noises, white noise, and silence.

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The silence was the control, and as with many previous studies, its effect was considered negligible. Once again though the findings were an eye-opener. All the sounds had a short-term neurological effect, but what about silence?

Two hours of silence per day led to cell development in the hippocampus – the brain area responsible for memory formation and emotions. This baffled Kirste. But after some thought she came to the following conclusion – the absence of noise was so artificial and alarming that it caused hyper-alertness in the mice.

Whilst new cell development isn’t always good for health, in this instance, the cells were becoming functioning neurons (a specialized cell that transmits nerve impulses; also known as a nerve cell). Kirste went on to say:

“We saw that silence is really helping the newly generated cells differentiate into neurons and integrate into the system.”

Silence Amplifies Self-Reflection

Not only does silence aid in cell generation, but it also aids in self-reflection. We all have what is known as the “default mode” of brain function – found in the prefrontal cortex (located in the front of the brain and responsible for abstract thinking, thought analysis and regulating thinking).

The default mode is always active, receiving and analyzing information. For example, the ability to detect danger happens automatically in this part of the brain. This default mode is also highly active during self-reflection (understanding ourselves) according to Joseph Moran who published a paper titled “What can the organization of the brain’s default mode network tell us about self-knowledge?”

According to Moran and colleagues, when the brain is in this resting mode, it is able to integrate internal and external information into a conscious workspace. When there is silence, your conscious workspace has greater freedom to process the internal and external information, allowing you to better discover your place in the world. Silence amplifies self-reflection.

And perhaps Noora Vikman, an ethnomusicologist (someone who studies music in a cultural context) and silence consultant for Finland’s marketers sums it up best:

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“If you want to know yourself you have to be with yourself, and discuss with yourself, be able to talk with yourself.”

Silence then truly is golden. It changes your brain. It changes your life.

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Last Updated on October 29, 2018

What Causes Brain Fog? (7 Things You Can Do to Prevent and Stop It)

What Causes Brain Fog? (7 Things You Can Do to Prevent and Stop It)

Brain fog is more of a symptom than a medical condition itself, but this doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Brain fog is a cognitive dysfunction, which can lead to memory problems, lack of mental clarity and an inability to focus.

Many often excuse brain fog for a bad day, or get so used to it that they ignore it. Unfortunately, when brain fog is ignored it ends up interfering with work and school. The reason many ignore it is because they aren’t fully aware of what causes it and how to deal with it.

It’s important to remember that if your brain doesn’t function fully — nothing else in your life will. Most people have days where they can’t seem to concentrate or forget where they put their keys.

It’s very normal to have days where you can’t think clearly, but if you’re experiencing these things on a daily basis, then you’re probably dealing with brain fog for a specific reason.

So what causes brain fog? It can be caused by a string of things, so we’ve made a list things that causes brain fog and how to prevent it and how to stop it.

1. Stress

It’s no surprise that we’ll find stress at the top of the list. Most people are aware of the dangers of stress. It can increase blood pressure, trigger depression and make us sick as it weakens our immune system.

Another symptom is mental fatigue. When you’re stressed your brain can’t function at its best. It gets harder to think and focus, which makes you stress even more.

Stress can be prevented by following some simple steps. If you’re feeling stressed you should avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine — even though it may feel like it helps in the moment. Two other important steps are to indulge in more physical activities and to talk to someone about it.

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Besides that, you can consider keeping a stress diary, try relaxation techniques like mediation, getting more sleep and maybe a new approach to time management.

2. Diet

Most people know that the right or wrong diet can make them gain or loss weight, but not enough people think about the big impact a specific diet can have on one’s health even if it might be healthy.

One of the most common vitamin deficiencies is vitamin B12 deficiency and especially vegans can be get hid by brain fog, because their diet often lacks the vitamin B-12. The vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to mental and neurological disorders.

The scary thing is that almost 40 % of adults are estimated to lack B12 in their diet. B12 is found in animal products, which is why many vegans are in B12 deficiency, but this doesn’t mean that people need animal products to prevent the B12 deficiency. B12 can be taken as a supplement, which will make the problem go away.

Another vital vitamin that can cause brain fog is vitamin D. More than 1 billion people worldwide don’t have enough vitamin D in their diet. Alongside B12 and vitamin D is omega-3, which because of its fatty acids helps the brain function and concentrate. Luckily, both vitamin D and omega-3 can be taken as supplements.

Then there’s of course also the obvious unhealthy foods like sugar. Refined carbohydrates like sugar will send your blood sugar levels up, and then send you right back down. This will lead to brain fog, because your brain uses glucose as its main source of fuel and once you start playing around with your brain — it gets confused.

Besides being hit by brain fog, you’ll also experience tiredness, mood swings and mental confusion. So, if you want to have clear mind, then stay away from sugar.

Sometimes the same type of diet can be right for some and wrong for others. If you’re experiencing brain fog it’s a good idea to seek out your doctor or a nutritionist. They can take some tests and help you figure out which type of diet works best for your health, or find out if you’re lacking something specific in your diet.

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3. Allergies

If you have food allergies, or are simply a bit sensitive to specific foods, then eating those foods can lead to brain fog. Look out for dairy, peanuts and aspartame that are known to have a bad effect on the brain.

Most people get their calories from corn, soy and wheat — and big surprise — these foods are some of the most common foods people are allergic to. If you’re in doubt, then you can look up food allergies[1] and find some of the most common symptoms.

If you’re unsure about being allergic or sensitive, then you can start out by cutting out a specific food from your diet for a week or two. If the brain fog disappears, then you’re most likely allergic or sensitive to this food. The symptoms will usually go away after a week or two once you remove the trigger food from the diet.

If you still unsure, then you should seek out the help of your doctor.

4. Lack of sleep

All of us know we need sleep to function, but it’s different for everybody how much sleep they need. A few people can actually function on as little as 3-4 hours of sleep every night, but these people are very, very rare.

Most people need 8 to 9 hours of sleep. If you don’t get the sleep you need, then this will interfere with your brain and you may experience brain fog.

Instead of skipping a few hours of sleep to get ahead of things you need to do, you’ll end up taking away productive hours from your day, because you won’t be able to concentrate and your thoughts will be cloudy.

Many people have trouble sleeping but you can help improve your sleep by a following a few simple steps.

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There is the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise, which is a technique that regulates your breath and helps you fall asleep faster. Another well-known technique is to avoid bright lights before you go to sleep.

A lot of us are guilty of falling asleep with the TV on or with our phone right by us, but the blue lights from these screens suppresses the production of melatonin in our bodies, which actually makes us stay awake longer instead. If you’re having trouble going to sleep without doing something before you close your eyes, then try taking up reading instead.

If you want to feel more energized throughout the day, start doing this.

5. Hormonal changes

Brain fog can be triggered by hormonal changes. Whenever your levels of progesterone and estrogen increases, you may experience short-term cognitive impairment and your memory can get bad.

If you’re pregnant or going through menopause, then you shouldn’t worry too much if your mind suddenly starts to get a bit cloudy. Focus on keeping a good diet, getting enough of sleep and the brain fog should pass once you’re back to normal.

6. Medication

If you’re on some medication, then it’s very normal to start experiencing some brain fog.

You may start to forget things that you used to be able to remember, or you get easily confused. Maybe you can’t concentrate the same way that you used to. All of these things can be very scary, but you shouldn’t worry too much about it.

Brain fog is a very normal side effect of drugs, but by lowering your dosage or switching over to another drug; the side effect can’t often be improved and maybe even completely removed.

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7. Medical condition

Brain fog can often be a symptom of a medical condition. Medical conditions that include inflammation, fatigue, changes in blood glucose level are known to cause brain fog.

Conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, anemia, depression, diabetes, migraines, hypothyroidism, Sjögren syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, Lupus and dehydration can all cause brain fog.[2]

The bottom line

If you haven’t been diagnosed, then never start browsing around Google for the conditions and the symptoms. Once you start looking for it; it’s very easy to (wrongfully) self-diagnose.

Take a step back, put away the laptop and relax. If you’re worried about being sick, then always check in with your doctor and take it from there.

Remember, the list of things that can cause brain fog is long and it can be something as simple as the wrong diet or not enough sleep.

Featured photo credit: Asdrubal luna via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Food Allergy: Common Allergens
[2]HealthLine: 6 Possible Causes of Brain Fog

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