My husband's snoring is a health hazard. Or so I learned last year, when I bought a jar of earplugs and found out that I could pay for them with my flexible-spending account. According to medical experts, nighttime quiet is as important to my well-being as wearing eyeglasses or getting my daily vitamins, and even low-level noise prevents deep, restorative rest. Noise also contributes to high blood pressure, strokes, circulatory problems, and distracted thinking. Plus, anecdotally at least, it makes us cranky.
Lately we seem to be on the run from unwanted sound. There are more than 500 kinds of noise-canceling headphones on Amazon.com, and the iPhone White Noise Lite app has been downloaded more than 10 million times. Writer George Prochnik’s In Pursuit of Silence ($16, amazon.com), published last year, is a 352-page historical and scientific examination of why society has gotten louder and how we can quiet down again.
“I felt there was less of the silence I had always found necessary and wondered whether I was just getting grouchier,” says Prochnik, who lives in New York City. “I started asking people what about city life bothered them most, and noise was always near the top of the list.”
The scientific evidence that noise damages our health is stronger than ever, he adds. “I think we’re seeing noise tied into a host of other problems of the age—problems of attention, aggression, insomnia, and general stress,” says Prochnik. “Noise is now our default position as a society. But I believe we have to make an effort to build a passionate case for silence.”