Health: Silence can be the best cure!

City noise, open-space, notifications from your mobile phone.... Does the constant noise get on your nerves? Perhaps it's time to offer you a cure for silence.


Be careful, we are not talking here about a Bruce Lee pushing a deadly "KYYYYYAAAAAAYYYY".

We are talking about the soundtrack of our modern societies, whose volume is constantly increasing. Traffic noise, irritating noises, constant noise solicitation... That noise kills! According to the European Environment Agency, noise pollution causes more than 10,000 premature deaths per year.

Excessive noise causes fatigue, irritation, sleep disturbance, increased stress hormones and cardiovascular risk. It alters hearing and memory, causes tinnitus, disrupts concentration, promotes depression... And bad luck, our body didn't have time to adapt to that: if we have eyelids to close our eyes, our ears don't have a noise damper!


Why do you think we've been saying all along that rest is health? This is particularly true for your brain, which is in a state of upheaval with this constant hubbub.

As neuroscientist Michel Le Van Quyen explains, an overworked brain consumes a lot of glucose, so it generates a lot of "detritus" (proteins that accumulate). Unlike the rest of the body, the brain does not have a lymphatic system to remove toxins that interfere with its proper functioning.

Cleaning therefore involves glial cells (which form the environment of neurons), which are more effective when the individual is at rest. To put it simply, while you enjoy a moment of calm or sleep, your brain takes a shower!


Attention saving, available brain time, hypersolicitation.... "Silence has become a rare and luxurious commodity in today's world," explains psychiatrist Christophe André, who has worked hard to introduce meditation into the hospital setting.

As we have seen, silence already allows you to empty your brain. But it is far from being his only virtue! Silence reduces stress, improves sleep, improves concentration and creativity, while allowing your ear to rest and regenerate.

But also and above all, psychologically, silence is an essential ally: it allows you to refocus and reconnect with yourself. It allows us to immerse ourselves more effectively in our thoughts, in our memories, to think of others, to project ourselves into the future and to synthesize all this. That is why it is also feared by many, who are afraid to find themselves with themselves. Silence is therefore an ally that must be tamed!


When we say cure of silence, of course, we think of the spiritual retreat, a monastic stay, with silent prayers and silent contemplation... But if you need to be accompanied, it is obviously not the only solution. There are also establishments that offer "lay" cures of silence. In short, sound rest homes where silence is golden!

Organizing your own little cure for silence is within everyone's reach. You just have to ask yourself the question: what is your need? Alone or accompanied? A few hours of silence or several days? In your "cabin in Canada" or in the quiet quiet of a library? During a solo hike or with the complicity of friends and family with whom communication does not require words? There is only one advice: first of all, listen to yourself!


"I would like silence in the depths of the crowds,
The rest of the volcanoes,
The sound of time flowing,
The smell of the end of time
Suspended for a moment.
And eyes in the eyes
Finally start laughing" sings Maxime Le Forestier who, like many noise goldsmiths, knows that silence is the punctuation of music!

The benefits of silence on our brains

In an increasingly digital world, where our brains are subject to all kinds of disruptions, emptying has become essential.

Michel Le Van Quyen, a neuroscientist, woke up a little less than two years ago, suffering from facial paralysis. He was taken to the doctor, who diagnosed him with overwork and prescribed absolute rest. He returns home and after a while he feels better and eventually overcomes the disease, but since he is a neuroscientist, he wants to understand.

He then leads the investigation, which will lead to a book, Brain and Silence, in which he explains how silence makes it possible to disconnect and preserve one's health. The brain is a major energy consumer. In activity, it consumes a quarter of the glucose in our body. The consequence is that it produces waste that must then be disposed of. And to do it well, the brain uses these periods of inactivity. It's called: brainwashing.

That's why we need calm and sleep. Because while we sleep, the brain cleans itself. The problem is that our nights are getting shorter and shorter (in a century, the French have lost 1h30 of sleep per day) and everything indicates that things will get worse and worse. We live in an increasingly digital world. Screens, notifications, unwanted solicitations, exhaust our brains.

Take two minutes to clear the air

Today, an employee's concentration time on a task averages 11 minutes and when interrupted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to regain a minimum of concentration.

We call cognitive overload. We know that it will also affect our cardiovascular and immune systems and that all this can lead to depression. To avoid this, we must return to silence. In the broadest sense of the term, acoustic silence but also attentional, visual silence. What is advocated is a total disconnection: take 2 minutes to isolate yourself and clear your mind.

The silence that makes you feel good

The benefits of silence on our physical and mental health. A few days ago, in the middle of the afternoon, I measured the decibels at the exit of the La Chapelle metro station in Paris, using an application on my smartphone. An amateur measure, certainly, but one that strikes the eardrums: between 90 and 100 decibels... Designated guilty: the roar of trucks, buses, cars, deafening horns, the incessant passage of the air subway, the noisy crowd...

Throughout the day, we are subjected to an incessant crash

Stunned by noises exceeding 60/70 decibels... This is the threshold of intellectual and physical disturbances. The excess noise acts like a woodpecker that hits us on the system. With a major impact on our psyche, our state of fatigue, our cardiovascular health, our stress level, our hormonal secretions. We will see why silence in all its forms does our brains good, promotes our creativity and serenity.
  • How can we have moments of silence in a noisy world?
  • Why keeping silent about our mental hubbub is fundamental to restoring our balance?

In short, silence is golden and can enrich our lives.

Multiple forms of silence

You always need someone who listens to silence to define it. Thus Michel Le Van Quyen defines different silences:

The absence of noise is obvious but there is a silence that is more inner.

It is to silence the little voice in our head and give way to daydreaming, to meditation for the researcher.

For Christophe André, absolute silence does not exist. We're all looking for moments of calm. Body silence, eye silence, auditory silence... Michel Le Van Quyen lists several of them.

Proof of noise pollution

The effects of the nuisances are proven. The noise level is measured in decibels. From 85 dB we speak of risk threshold, 90 dB danger threshold (NB: a discotheque is generally 100 dB). The first risk is obviously the deterioration of the ear, which is first manifested by tinnitus. Then hearing fatigue, then an increase in the threshold of audibility and finally hearing loss.

Smaller noises can also attack the body. In one experiment, high cortisol (stress hormone) levels were measured in people who had been exposed to "small noise" (60 dB) at night.

Is silence scary?

People avoid noise is a trend. But not sure they are looking for silence. What Michel Le Van Quyen confirms:

For many, silence is frightening. It is the fear of being confronted with oneself. The fear of being alone.

Our inability to disconnect, the famous "Fear of missing out" (Fomo) or even nomophobia reflect a state in which our society seems to have rushed.  The "noise" of social networks is continuous, and also confuses our brains. For Remy Oudghiri:

People are more and more aware that they are caught up in the flow of messages, posts, solicitations.

If people were not looking for silence, they would be looking for disconnection.

Why does our brain need silence?

Every year, 10,000 premature deaths in Europe are associated with noise. Two minutes of silence a day is enough to slow the heartbeat. With Michel Le Van Quyen, analysis of the brain's needs in silence for its regeneration.

Neuroscientist Michel Le Van Quyen was the guest of La Tête au carré to talk about the power of silence. Following facial paralysis, the researcher was arrested. This is how he became aware of the brain's need for silence and devoted himself to writing his new book Brain and Silence. He explains to us why silence is essential for our concentration, and even our health.

Evacuate toxins and regenerate

When the brain is operating at full capacity, it consumes a lot of glucose. This generates a lot of detritus (proteins that accumulate). However, the brain has no lymphatic system. So how does he manage to "clean up" himself, get rid of toxins that can interfere with his proper functioning?

The way the brain evacuates toxins was discovered in 2012 by American researcher Maiken Nedergaard. She called this system, the "glymphatic" system in reference to glial cells (which form the environment of neurons).

Cells that evacuate these famous toxins through the cerebrospinal fluid. She therefore discovered that evacuation was more effective when resting (especially during sleep, hence the fact that one "recovers" during this phase).

A very important brain "shower", especially in the case of Alzheimer's disease. A disease that is linked to the accumulation of proteins in the brain, yet many researchers are working on how to remove them more easily. Sleep and calm could therefore be therapeutic approaches, not to cure the disease but at least to slow it down.

Focusing and building

The researcher reminds us that we live in a kind of attention economy. He says that one of the objectives of many digital companies is to capture our attention. This exhausts our brains.

He also refers to the researcher Gloria Mark who studied "open space". The conclusions are alarming. The concentration of employees on a task is on average 11 minutes (before being interrupted by another task). Thereafter they will need about 25 minutes to focus again on the task.

The accumulation of these interruptions constitutes what psychologists call a cognitive overload. You have this feeling of having too many things to do at once, a feeling that can go as far as physical pain.

Today, in general, we are all a little bit worried about missing something.

Silence is something fundamental to good brain function. Disconnection moments are very important to encourage creativity, concentration and self-building.

Silence and its unsuspected virtues

If we know that too much exposure to noise is harmful, silence has many virtues.

The word is silver but silence is golden. It has many benefits for both mind and body. First, it allows the brain to be less solicited, which activates a specific network. Professor Francis Eustache, neuropsychologist, explains: "It is a network that allows us to immerse ourselves in our thoughts, both our memory, our personal, autobiographical memory but also allows us to think of others, to project ourselves into the future and to synthesize all this". If some people fear it, silence would therefore possess many psychological virtues. These include reducing stress, improving sleep, reducing the risk of depression and, in general, contributing to better concentration. In 2013, a study showed that mouse brains saw the development of new cells when they were exposed to two hours of silence per day.
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The dangers of too long exposure to noise

On the other hand, it is estimated that noise can have an impact on health from too long an exposure to 85 decibels. This can cause ringing in the ears or buzzing (the famous tinnitus) as well as a decrease in hearing acuity. Exposure to noise also promotes stress, sleep disorders and even cardiovascular disorders. This is why the sound levels emitted by MP3s and sound systems are regulated by law. The average level is now limited to 100 dB for personal music players and 102 dB for nightclubs.

The power of silence

Studies in neuroscience reveal that silence in all its forms is beneficial for the health, creativity, memorization, and even the construction of the individual.

It has been found that noise can have an observable physical effect on our brain by causing high levels of stress hormones.

On the other hand, neuroscience confirms that when we favour acoustic, but also attentional, visual or meditative silence, our brain switches to a very particular state.

It is this disconnection that helps it to regenerate itself, to remove toxins leading to neurodegenerative diseases. In addition, the "default" mode of our brain helps us to think about deeper things in an imaginative way.

If the great wisdom of East and West has already understood this, today science attests to the amazing powers of silence: it is up to us to seize them.

Why silence is vital for the brain

It is widely acknowledged that silence is something precious. Beyond this evidence of everyday life, science is interested in its benefits on our brain, and in a practical way on concentration and mental health.

"Noise does no good, and good does no noise", "Speech is silver and silence is gold", these famous French proverbs sum up a truth that is difficult to dispute: the value of silence.

Neuroscientist Michel Le Van Quyen is one of the apostles of silence in the scientific community. Invited this week to La Tête au carré, the popular science radio show presented by Mathieu Vidard on France Inter, he provided the scientific evidence that underlies the virtues of silence on our physical and mental health.

Silence removes toxins and regenerates brain cells

During the program, Michel Van Quyen talked about some of the scientific facts presented in his book Brain and Silence. For example, he explains that when the brain is highly active, it consumes a lot of glucose, creating a mass of residues, including toxins that are released through the cerebrospinal fluid of glial cells (the cells that form the environment of neurons.

However, the evacuation of these toxins is more effective during the rest phase, especially during sleep, according to the work of the American researcher Maiken Nedergaard. Sleep, but also calm and silence, therefore promotes the elimination of toxins and the regeneration of brain cells.

Silence is essential for creativity and concentration

Noise is experienced in many ways in our society today. It is not only a question of noise in the acoustic sense of the word, but also of mental noise linked to everyday annoyances. Silence is therefore to be considered in this dimension. Michel Le Van Quyen refers to a study by another researcher, Gloria Mark, who studied work in open spaces.

It makes a worrying observation that employees in companies were constantly moving from one task to another without completing the work in progress. These repeated interruptions and lack of focus on one task at a time are what scientists call cognitive overload.

This overload ultimately produces counter-productive effects and undermines the creativity, concentration and overall mental health of the people concerned. So many factors that show that silence is vital for our brains.

Health: a cure for silence, what is it?

What if silence is our new ally against stress and fatigue? Here are the benefits of not saying anything.

Noise pollution is unhealthy and can cause ringing in the ears, attention disorders and even increased stress. However, when you live in the city, there is no shortage of noise pollution, including at night. And this is fatal for sleep! So, if you are in the middle of an auditory burnout and a weekend in the countryside will not be enough, you can opt for a cure of silence. It's a little radical, but it works! In other words, it is a moment of pause, where you recharge your batteries and reflect on yourself, all in complete silence. If the idea may be a little scary, the silent state has many benefits... We're curious!

Silence against stress

Being immersed in silence is a unique opportunity to savour the present moment and above all, to relax. This change of pace requires us to refocus on more essential things and to listen to each other. The main activity during a silence cure is meditation (well, we were expecting that a little bit!), whose purpose is, most of the time, to help us solve problems or complex situations that we go through. We enjoy (finally) a moment when silence is not embarrassing (and we don't feel obliged to talk, since it's forbidden anyway)! But being plunged into silence also means finding oneself in front of oneself, and in front of one's fears. During this exercise, we learn to tame them and discover another way of life, a calmer one.

To begin with, we set ourselves the objective of remaining silent for 30 minutes. It doesn't look like much, but it's not bad enough! Meanwhile, you turn off your phone and lie down (or sit down), then try simple breathing exercises, while reflecting on your needs, your desires. In other words, we think of positive things to progress in our projects or solve our problems. This short period should already relax us. Then, we gradually increase the duration, without stress if we do not last more than two hours (disconnect, it is not always that easy). A cure for silence does not mean that you do nothing: you take advantage of it to think about reading, sewing... in short, gentle and relaxing activities. The cure can be held from 30 minutes to several days, depending on the possibilities, desires and needs.

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