Not all of our neighborhoods can be as quiet and peaceful as we’d like. Even the least-busy streets are often populated with car horns honking, garbage trucks grinding and crashing, and people chatting loudly. Some streets, particularly those in urban areas, maintain a consistent ambient soundtrack of traffic and motion that equals approximately 55 decibels, or the sound of a dishwasher running.
Many New York City residents experience regular ambient noise that ranges from 70 decibels to over 100 decibels — that is, from the sound of a vacuum to the roar of a chainsaw. On the noisiest days, my New York family sometimes walks around the house with earplugs in.
What does all of that noise pollution do to our health? Well, a famous 2007 study by Lisa Goines and Louis Hagler reveals that noise pollution has seven specific adverse health effects. Some are obvious, others not so much. To quote The Atlantic, these effects are:
- Hearing impairment
- Interference with spoken communication
- Sleep disturbances
- Cardiovascular disturbances
- Disturbances in mental health
- Impaired task performance
- Negative social behavior and annoyance reactions
If you and your family have been experiencing any of these symptoms, it may actually be due to all the ambient noise pollution around you. Of course, not all of this noise pollution comes from outside our homes; in-home noise like air conditioners and dishwashers increases the noise level, meaning that many people are constantly surrounded by 55 to 70 decibels of sound.
A short experiment
Here’s a quick experiment to determine the noise levels in your home. Grab a blank piece of paper and close your eyes. Then, write down every single noise you can hear. Listen for traffic sounds, dogs barking, birds singing, refrigerators humming, and all of the other noises that make up the contemporary landscape.
Your brain is constantly processing all of this sound, and deciding which of these noises are important and which are unimportant. That’s why you can go to sleep with the dishwasher running but wake up when a dog starts barking. This is, however, a heavy load for your brain to process, which explains why you sometimes have trouble focusing or listening while at home.
How do you make unwanted sounds go away? Add music
Believe it or not, the way to “turn off” background noise is to add more sound: specifically, music. Many office workers, for example, rely on headphones and music to drown out the chatter, elevator dings, printer noise and other sounds in a modern office.
This type of music is called concentration music, and it works because it gives your brain something to focus on besides sorting out whether that car alarm that just went off is normal or a threat. Any type of music you enjoy works as concentration music, although some experts recommend music with a fast, driving rhythm for maximum concentration.
Music lessons take it one step further
If you’ve got kids at home, a noisy house combined with outdoor noise pollution creates an environment that makes it difficult for your children to both study and relax.
Practicing piano, violin, or another musical instrument automatically provides your child with concentration music. When you’re working on scales or playing your way through a favorite piece, your brain tunes out all other noise to focus on the hand-eye-ear coordination involved in playing music. Music lessons also improve overall concentration skills, meaning that a child who learns how to focus at the piano will carry that focus over into the classroom and into nightly homework.
You don’t have to drive your kids around every week to make sure those lessons get done either. There are many music teachers who teach online, meaning that music lessons can happen from home. TakeLessons piano classes, for example, lets your child take lessons when it is convenient for your family, as well as track progress online and have a clear record of musical growth. That’s how our New York family managed to block out the sounds of traffic and construction, and focus on music and each other.
If your home is too noisy for your family, it’s time to add in some music and see what happens. Chances are, you’ll sleep better, focus harder, and have more fun in each other’s company.