Tomorrow Morning, Take a Dose of This Medicine

Lots of us wake up the same way each morning…

A shrill alarm jolts us out of sleep, and then we’re almost immediately looking at our phones – checking messages, looking at the news, and browsing social media.

My researcher recently admitted that she starts to read the news before even getting out of bed. In her half-awake state, she can’t help herself. She quickly gets pulled in by the sensationalist headlines… like a bad habit.

And with all the bad news making headlines, it’s just about the worst way to start your day. As she told me, the glow of the screen coupled with the sometimes-alarming content is a recipe for a less-than-savory mood.

There’s a much better way to start your day… in silence.

I’ve written before about the dangers of living in cities because of noise.

Many studies also show an association between higher amounts of noise exposure and problems with sleep, increased stress, and impaired brain function. In fact, some studies saw direct changes in DNA expression in animals exposed to aircraft noise.

Here’s why it happens… Constant noise triggers a stress response in the nervous system. Stress hormones like cortisol repress insulin, resulting in weight gain over time. This change also affects blood vessels and increases inflammation. All three of these responses damage our cardiovascular system.

In the short term, too much noise exposure also spikes our blood pressure, raises our heart rate, and slows our digestion. Over long periods of time, excess noise increases the risks of having high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, dementia, and depression.

And you might not even realize how noisy the world is around you because you’re used to it. But in many religions, the practice of silence is deeply respected and considered a road to wisdom. In both Eastern and Western religions, like Buddhism and Roman Catholicism, monastic silence is an essential part of training novice monks to help them achieve greater enlightenment and spirituality.

As it turns out, practicing silence gives the Broca (center of speech and communication) and Wernicke’s (center of listening) areas of the brain a needed break. When those parts of your brain are resting because you aren’t listening or speaking, other parts of your brain get a chance to become more active and communicate with each other. (This is also true when you take a break from reading news headlines that just cause stress.) And working these other areas of your brain can, according to some research, reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

But you don’t need to spend days in silence to reap the benefits.

Intermittent or intentional silence – taking a break to intentionally walk or stand in silence for a period of time – has been found to be a useful mental health strategy.

Starting every day with 20 minutes of silence and/or mindfulness meditation prepares you to take on the hurdles and stressors of the day ahead. This can happen during your breakfast, in the shower, or before you even get out of bed. Developing a practice of dedicated silence and mindfulness allows you to mentally problem solve in a stress-free environment.

You can even practice silence while listening to music…

In 2006, researchers found that people listening to music experienced decreased blood pressure and heart rate, and increased relaxation when given a two-minute pause in between songs. A 2015 study found that silence stimulated the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain where learning, memory, and emotions are conducted. In those periods of silence, the brain seems to be righting the ills of the body and mind. We need more of this!

When you first start practicing silence, don’t be surprised if it’s uncomfortable or frustrating at first. It can be helpful to repeat a mantra – meaning “through the mind” in Sanskrit – to help focus on quieting our minds and opening up to the shared energy of the universe.

While there is much to know about the science behind the ancient yogic mantras, we won’t get into that here. However, you can develop your own mantra to help you quiet your mind. You can say something along the lines of “I am calm and at peace and my mind is clear.” Repeating this phrase and believing it to be true will help it manifest into reality… You will find that after a bit of time, you will feel calm and clearheaded.

So, give it a good try for a week – spend 20 minutes of the morning in silence – and see if you feel any different. I’m betting that you will… because the science is on my side.

What We’re Reading

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
December 3, 2020