Did you have a sound soother when you were a child? With the click of a button, you could switch from waves breaking on the shore to a dense tropical forest. There’s a reason why you can always find the sounds of the ocean on these devices. There is something so deeply relaxing about listening to the gentle sound of waves, the cry of a seagull, or water flowing over pebbles. So, what is it about the sounds of the ocean that makes individuals feel so calm?
Water naturally has a soothing effect on the mind. Many people find that listening to these noises before bedtime helps them fall asleep better. As it turns out, there is a scientific reason behind this phenomenon.
Why Is Water so Calming?
Part of the reason why water sounds are so calming has to do with what the brain perceives as a threat. A loud alarm clock in the morning has the instant effect of making individuals awake and alert. On the other hand, the sound of waves lapping on the shore or wind passing through the trees is perceived as non-threatening. Because of this, the brain tends to tune them out. These sounds also have a repetitive quality to them, allowing individuals to fall into a meditative trance.
Loud noises can be difficult to sleep or meditate through. Sounds such as cars honking, a toilet being flushed in another room, or even people talking can disrupt the brain’s peace. The non-threatening sounds of the ocean can drown out sounds that humans may perceive as threats.
A 2012 study in a hospital setting found that even at low volumes, (around 40 decibels, or a whisper) alarms from hospital equipment woke up patients 90 percent of the time. Helicopter sounds and basic traffic, even at 70 decibels, didn’t wake patients up as frequently. As humans, everyone is biologically predisposed to react to noises that come out of nowhere, as they often signify bad news. 1
Taking a Break from Excessive Stimuli
Since ancient times, humans have turned to water for peace and clarity. When individuals need to get away from the city, they often take a vacation to a beach or a lake. When they need a sense of peace within the city, they take long baths or showers. The color blue is even associated with tranquility.
Many people find it difficult to turn off the constant stream of thoughts that range from this week’s to-do list to next week’s grocery list. The calm, repetitive quality of ocean sounds allow a brief respite from the incessant babble. When practicing yoga or daily meditation , listening to the sound of waves can help get you in the proper mindset.
Additionally, individuals are constantly bombarded by sensory stimuli. Being around water allows a break from all of this stimuli. The color blue stretches as far as the eye can see. While not completely quiet, the sound of the waves is repetitive and soothing. This is true whether you are near, in, on, or under water. The ocean gives people a break from the excesses of daily life.
Have you ever found yourself sitting at the edge of the sea and just gazing out into the distance? Perhaps you have done this for hours, only realizing when the sun begins to set. When you get into this sort of trance, the mind is both relaxed and focused. This sort of mindfulness has been associated with a range of health benefits, including lower levels of stress and anxiety, better sleep quality, and improved mental clarity.
When gazing out at sea, many people experience a sense of awe and wonder. This emotion enhances connection with nature and others and can increase your ability to feel empathy and compassion. 2
Bringing the Ocean Home
When you’re in a creative rut or feeling overwhelmed by your day, taking a moment to shower or bathe can reset your mind. While a trip to the ocean can certainly hit the reset button, most people can’t do this every day. Nevertheless, you can channel some of the relaxations that the ocean brings into your daily life—even if the real ocean is far away.
For instance, have you ever found yourself staring at your computer, trying desperately to finish a task before a deadline? Most times, stepping away is the answer.
Close your eyes and simply be. This sensory combination can make you feel as though you are sitting at the edge of the sea. You’ll return to your day relaxed, refreshed, and ready to take on anything. When you are too busy to step away from your work, take a breath of Ocean while playing soothing ocean sounds. Even this simple act can bring clarity and focus.
Photo credits: DudarevMikhail/shutterstock.com, AfricaStudio/shutterstock.com, Pressmaster/shutterstock.com